"Fear is the foundation of most governments." - John Adams
"My family is more important than my party." - Zell Miller
What stoicism can and can't do.
Posted: Posted May 5th, 2017 by Louis De Pointe du Lac
If you go into stoicism expecting stress, depression, and anger to disappear completely you will be disappointed. It doesn't work that way. Stoicism is a philosophy. Not a drug. If a stoic wrecks his or her car, fails a test, loses a loved one, or gets fired from a job then he or she will feel upset just like everyone else.
The value of stoicism is in what comes after. Ok so you're upset. Now what are you going to do? Are you going to whine and cry? Go sulk in a corner for a while? Are you going to snap at people or go on a bender? This is where you have control and it's what the philosophy of stoicism is keen to remind you of. Our emotions are what they are but how we live with them is up to us.
The stoics warn us not to feel entitled to good fortune. Doing so is what causes these bad reactions to unhappy feelings. Our expectations are having trouble computing the reality of what is happening. How many of us when we get angry think of things like: No. Wrong. Not allowed. Against the rules. Can't happen.
One of the ancient philosophers, Seneca who had the bad luck of being tutor to Nero, tells a story of a roman noble named Vedius Pollio who once held a party for the emperor Augustus at one of his villas. During the entertainment a slave carrying a crystal glass cup tripped on a piece of marble and dropped the cup shattering it on the floor. This enraged Pollio so much that he ordered the slave be thrown into a pool of lampreys to be eaten alive. Seneca argues that the reason Pollio got so angry is because he allowed himself to imagine a world where crystal cups simply did not break.
Feeling angry is ok. Throwing slaves to the lampreys is not. Remember misfortune and you will remember your temper. Do not always expect bad things to happen but respect that they could happen. That seems to be the stoic way.
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