If you’re familiar with The Deep, you know we’re fans of Stoicism.
And while people often think of ‘being stoic’ as simply being the strong and silent type, there’s a lot more to it than that. The teachings of Stoicism were not only relevant back in Ancient Rome; they might even be more helpful in today’s modern world.
So, here’s a quick rundown of one of our favorite topics:
It all started with Zeno of Cyprus. Once a wealthy man, he lost all his possessions and got shipwrecked in Athens. He decided to head to a bookstore - like you do when you’re shipwrecked. There, he read about Socrates and other ancient philosophers. He got so jazzed about them he started taking philosophy lessons from all the prominent teachers in the city. Eventually, he began teaching philosophy, and from there, he developed Stoicism.
Zeno after reading Socrates. (Source: Giphy)
Who Are Some Of The Big Names?
The Stoic All-Stars lineup includes some pretty heavy hitters. First, you have Zeno, who created it. Next: someone you may have already heard of, Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor who ruled his kingdom using the tenets of Stoicism (and is one of our favorites to quote). If you ever saw Gladiator, you saw how he was portrayed as a wise elder. Then you have Seneca, a famous playwright and advisor to a Roman emperor, and Epictetus (who, unlike the super-rich Seneca, was a former slave turned philosopher and writer – also gifted us some amazing quotes). And finally, you have rapper T-Pain. Okay, that last one not so much, but he did record a mixtape called Stoic, which he says was influenced by Stoicism. Oh, and he gave us auto-tune.
Ok But, Like, What Is Stoicism?
Stoicism is a philosophy. And one of the things that we love about it is that it’s accessible to everyone. It doesn’t require you to believe in any particular god (or gods), nor do you have to live in a certain place or become a member of any particular community. In fact, the only requirement is that you behave in a way that upholds your virtuous character, no matter what the circumstances.
Stoicism, at its core, is a philosophy about how the world *actually* is – and how we deal with those (sometimes negative) realities. It reminds us that we are all connected – and thus our actions can have a ripple effect on the world around us. Stoic believe that, while there are many things in life we have no control over, we can still adapt and react to those things in ways that make us stronger and happier. Which is why Stoicism talks a lot about how to respond to the things we DO have control over. According to the Stoics, every situation in life presents us with the opportunity to “respond with 4 core virtues”:
Virtue #1: Wisdom
To the Stoics, wisdom is cultivating the right knowledge and the right mindset to help you handle life’s (inevitable) difficulties in a constructive, fair and benevolent way.
An important part of wisdom, for the Stoics, is knowing what you do and do not have control over. Stoics acknowledge that fate and fortune are fickle; tragedy and misfortune can befall anyone, anytime, anywhere. Stoics, therefore, do not wish for good circumstances – that would make their mental health dependent on things that are outside of their control. Instead of wishing for good luck, they try to develop good judgment – judgment that helps them navigate tragedy and misfortune in a constructive manner.
It’s also worth noting that the wisest people, according to Stoic philosophy, have a learner’s mindset. They believe they have something to learn from every single person and every single circumstance. They also have the humility to acknowledge they are probably wrong/mistaken about some things. Wise people don’t simply rely on their emotions to navigate the world; instead, they use logic, reason, and critical thinking to help them make the good and fair decisions.
"The More You Know": Turns out this was a PSA for Stoicism. (Source: Tenor)
Virtue #2: Temperance
Think of this one as the Goldilocks virtue: not too hot, not too cold. Just right. It means that the best path is usually to pursue moderation, rather than the extremes. It also means focusing on the most essential things – and letting go of the rest.
Stoics advocate, “[Do] nothing in excess. [Do] the right thing in the right amount in the right way.” In other words: find the middle ground. Be reasonable. Don’t be reactionary.
Goldilocks: secret Stoic ... and a little too confident in bear country. (Source: Imagination Inc)
Virtue #3: Courage
Maya Angelou once said, "Courage is the most important of all the virtues because, without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently." We're not sure if Ms. Angelou was a Stoic, per se, but that sentiment certainly matches up.
The Stoics believe that the world is full of harsh truths, significant challenges, and a regular barrage of failures. They don't wish for a world with no obstacles; that’s unrealistic. Instead, they wish for the courage to do what is right and good, even if it is risky or unpopular. They believe in acting with bravery and honor – even if (especially if) other people aren’t.
Virtue #4: Justice
Finally, we have the virtue which Marcus Aurelius called “the source of all the other virtues.” For Stoics, the first three virtues are great, but they don’t add up to much if no positive action results from them. Justice, which is basically the Stoic version of asking people to do the right thing, is the most vital virtue.
So what is justice to a Stoic?
It’s a recognition that we are all interconnected and largely all the same. Therefore, our thoughts and actions should be based on what’s best for the common good. Stoics don’t act selfishly; they act in a way that upholds the welfare of their fellow humans – and not just because it’s nice, but because it’s the right thing to do. You can think of it as The Golden Rule – on steroids.
A Few Of Our Favorite Stoic Quotes
“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following questions: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?” -Marcus Aurelius
“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” -Epictetus
"You always own the option of having no opinion” -Marcus Aurelius
So there you have it—stoicism 101. If you’re interested in learning more, we recommend subscribing to The Daily Stoic – and reading some of the works of early Stoic philosophers. Now get out there and practice your 4 virtues!