Stoicism, A Philosophy for Tough Times?
Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni writing in the Huffington Post describe why Stoicism is still relevant today. I selected a passage from their first reason that the philosophy was designed for tough times. I’ve read Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus, so I’m familiar with Stoicism but I don’t believe endurance is enough but otherwise I admire stoicism and find its practitioners admirable.
Stoicism was born in a world falling apart. Invented in Athens just a few decades after Alexander the Great’s conquests and premature death upended the Greek world, Stoicism took off because it offered security and peace in a time of warfare and crisis. The Stoic creed didn’t promise material security or a peace in the afterlife; but it did promise an unshakable happiness in this life.
Stoicism tells us that no happiness can be secure if it’s rooted in changeable, destructible things. Our bank accounts can grow or shrink, our careers can prosper or falter, even our loved ones can be taken from us. There is only one place the world can’t touch: our inner selves, our choice at every moment to be brave, to be reasonable, to be good.
The world might take everything from us; Stoicism tells us that we all have a fortress on the inside. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus, who was born a slave and crippled at a young age, wrote: “Where is the good? In the will…If anyone is unhappy, let him remember that he is unhappy by reason of himself alone.”
While it’s natural to cry out at pain, the Stoic works to stay indifferent to everything that happens on the outside, to stay equally happy in times of triumph and disaster. It’s a demanding way of life, but the reward it offers is freedom from passion — freedom from the emotions that so often seem to control us, when we should control them. A real Stoic isn’t unfeeling. But he or she does have a mastery of emotions, because Stoicism recognizes that fear or greed or grief only enter our minds when we willingly let them in.
A teaching like that seems designed for a world on edge, whether it’s the chaotic world of ancient Greece, or a modern financial crisis. But then, Epictetus would say that — as long as we try to place our happiness in perishable things — our worlds are always on edge.