What Can We Learn From The Stoics?

stoicismStoicism is a philosophical school that arose in Greece and was influential in Rome. It shares the insight that  the most important aspect of our nature is the part that we share with the rational divine, which is a union with nature/the universe/the cosmos.

The Stoic philosopher Seneca was born about the time of Jesus, was educated in Rome and became a Roman senator. He wrote about the importance of using reason to control our negative emotions and gain control over our internal lives in response to a world that is largely out of our control. He suggested we should be internally skeptical about the causes of our anger, to be reflective and to rise above it.

Another Stoic philosopher, Epictetus who was a slave, reasoned that we should accept whatever happens to us, good or bad with good cheer, control our emotions and act in the most rational way forward. He said that because life is short and will end, we shouldn’t waste it on being unhappy and upset.

He said that we should find meaning in our social relationships and roles and responsibilities in our families and community. Getting along, and not letting negative emotions get in our way, is our most important task. First calm down and then approach any problems rationally.

He also discussed the cycle of life and that we shouldn’t feel any more anxiety about death than we do watching leaves fall from the trees. It is a natural process that should be accepted like all of the other processes we encounter in nature, but at the same time cherish the moments we have here on earth.

Marcus Aurelius was a serious student of both Stoic and Epicurean philosophy. He wrote about taking the long view of life and realizing that everything passes. Most things that we obsess over are really very brief and inconsequential in the long scheme of life, and so are not worthy of the attention we give.

The Stoics find meaning in reflective thought, a cherished finite life, and rational action in the face of an irrational world.

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