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Stoicism: Not No Emotions, No Useless Emotions

Life is arresting. Our experience of the people, places, and events around us poke and prod our minds. These continually warp and alter our perception of ourselves, the world, and our place in it. Beneath the chaotic hullabaloo lies one common truth- our minds have unconsciously curated everything we do, say, and believe in the pursuit of a state of being. To put it simply, we live to feel.


Emotions make us, us.


They give our experiences a uniquely personal emotional shape. See it as a sort of subconscious code we run whilst interacting with the elements of the world. Emotions determine your identity, who you befriend, what you study, and how you prefer your eggs in the morning. So naturally, with stakes being as high as hard-boiled versus sunny side up, it is reckless to leave our feelings up to chance, unchecked. Most of us are not yet aware of how we surrender our vitality and power when we let our emotions flap and twirl about in the chaotic flow of life.


Very few choose to stare into the eyes of the force that truly makes them. And this is where Stoicism steps in.


Bust of Lucius Annaeus Seneca photographed by Jean-Pol Grandmont



What is Stoicism? It is a school of philosophy designed to make you and me wiser, more resilient individuals, making us better people, leaders, friends, and professionals. Given that the mentioning of philosophy makes most yawn, “stoic philosophy” on the surface sounds like the last thing anyone would want to learn about, let alone urgently need in daily life.


What do you picture when you read the word “Stoicism”? A disheveled, but healthy-looking man standing in the rain. Amidst hellishly darkened skies, vengeful and frenzied winds, writhing clouds, whispers of an omen of the biblical deluge to come, he seems motionless. Staring out into the distance with an expression so truly blank, devoid of any fear, joy, sadness. He seems to stride through life in one long continuum of nothingness until he eventually, inevitably, kicks the bucket. Yawn, where is the spice that makes life, right? No!


To the uninitiated, this vibrant, action-oriented way of life has become shorthand for “emotionless”. In actuality, Stoicism is a means of choosing what we feel. We free our emotions from the control of the external world. It is a human routine to react to circumstance. But at what cost? In contrast, Stoic principles adopt an element of detached anticipation of outcomes in our reality, which is best known for its entropy. This is a natural part of the human experience. Although, embracing it with a more joyous, and level-headed attitude only (drastically) increases the quality of our human experience. We can allow ourselves to release our daily exhaustion.


As scholar and essayist Nassim Taleb put it, “Stoicism is about the domestication of emotions, not their elimination.” If we can remain steady, if we can corral and control our emotions, no matter what happens or how much external events may fluctuate, there’s no obstacle that can undo us, no triumph that can overinflate us.


From the private diaries of one of Rome’s greatest emperors- Marcus Aurelius, the personal letters of one of Rome’s best playwrights and political advisors- Seneca, the lectures of a former slave and exile, turned influential teacher- Epictetus, emerged Stoicism. It originated as a Hellenistic philosophy, founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium (modern day Cyprus), c. 300 B.C.E., influenced by Socrates and the Cynics, and it engaged in vigorous debates with the Skeptics, the Academics, and the Epicureans.


These documents, almost miraculously surviving some two millennia, contain some of the greatest wisdom in history and are practiced by the most powerful and struggling alike. You may be familiar with a few of these modern-day users of stoic philosophy - Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Brady, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, the list goes on.


Illustration of Epictetus in Edward Ivie’s 1715 Latin translation of Enchiridion



Stoic philosophy is very simple to understand and embody. If you replace the ancient names of the Stoics with names like “John” or “Tim”, the texts might closely resemble a conversation with one of your more contemporary and esoteric friends.

Here are a few actionable Stoic principles you can adopt today-

  1. “We are often more frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.” — Seneca

  2. Premeditatio Malorum: “What is quite unlooked for is more crushing in its effect, and unexpectedness adds to the weight of a disaster. This is a reason for ensuring that nothing ever takes us by surprise. We should project our thoughts ahead of us at every turn and have in mind every possible eventuality instead of only the usual course of events… Rehearse them in your mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck. All the terms of our human lot should be before our eyes.” — Seneca

  3. Amor Fati: “To love only what happens, what was destined. No greater harmony.” — Marcus Aurelius

  4. “You become what you give your attention to…If you yourself don’t choose what thoughts and images you expose yourself to, someone else will.” — Epictetus

  5. “Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.” — Marcus Aurelius


At its core, Stoicism practices four virtues- courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom.

“If, at some point in your life,” Marcus Aurelius wrote, “you should come across anything better than justice, truth, self-control, courage—it must be an extraordinary thing indeed.”


That was almost twenty centuries ago. We have created a lot since then- automobiles, the Internet, cures for deadly diseases. We’ve even discovered Lattes!- but have we found anything better? A better formula to having the upper hand on life than being brave, endurance, doing what’s right, and truth and understanding? We haven’t. It’s unlikely we ever will. Everything we face in life is an opportunity to respond with these four traits.


Not no emotions, no useless emotions. It’s okay to be surprised, hurt, scared. No amount of philosophy can remove that initial, very human, feeling. But what we can work towards is getting to a place where we aren’t ruled by these feelings. Do you feel love? Do you feel excitement? Contrary to popular notions, there is nothing in the stoic texts about crushing those human feelings. We’re putting in work on domesticating destructive emotions like rage, resentment, envy, and bitterness because we recognize these emotions make ourselves and the world worse.



DCI’s main goal is to decode encrypted news for an enlightened citizen

Rachel Maryann Carvalho, Journalist at Décryptage Citoyen International

April 20th, 2021



References

  1. Daily Stoic | Stoic Wisdom For Everyday Life". 2021. Daily Stoic. https://dailystoic.com.

  2. Aurelius, M., 2013. Marcus Aurelius: Meditations, Books 1-6. Oxford University Press.

  3. Motto, A.L., 1970. Seneca, Letters from a Stoic: Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium. The Penguin Group

  4. Dobbin, R.F., 2007. Epictetus: Discourses, Book 1.

  5. Ryan, H., 2016. The Daily stoic. Profile Groups Ltd

  6. Ferriss, Tim. 2021. "Stoicism Resources And Recommendations". The Blog Of Author Tim Ferriss. https://tim.blog/stoic/.

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