Some of my dearest values and the prism through which I view my place in the world and my relationships with others were inspired by the teachings of men known as Stoics who preceded me by two millennia. That they were men is not incidental. While the best ideas may have no inherent gender and can potentially be adapted to be universally understood and applied, they are nevertheless transmitted through the stories, metaphors, and life experiences of one’s own sex.
As a female, I had to test the teachings of these male ancients against my own life experience to see if they had anything to say to me. I also wondered if these principles would be helpful to people of either sex who did not live in ancient times and to those who were not encultured in Western mythos or ethos. I further asked myself if Stoic teachings would be valuable to those who do not have the leisure to study, to philosophize, or to declaim from porches, as my Stoic predecessors did.
After careful consideration, I have concluded that anyone can flourish with Stoic ideas as their personal cornerstone or as an adjunct to a more widely embracing personal philosophy, religion, or cosmology.
Here, in my own words, is an essential part of Stoic philosophy that I think can be of use to anyone.
• Possessing an ordered inner life is paramount
• People seek meaning through work, whom they love, the pursuit of joy, ease, pleasure, thrills, success, financial affluence, the making of art, travel, adventure….this list is long. All of these pursuits can be enriching, but are never in themselves what confers a sense of being at home in this world. The active culturing of our character is the fulcrum of life’s meaning and majesty. By training our attention and actions on amplifying the nobler part of our nature, anxiety ebbs leaving serenity in its stead.
• The strenuously moral (not moralistic!) life is the best possible life.
• Practicing goodness is more important than what you think you believe. Always look at what people do over what they say.
• Our power lies in our ability to train and change our minds.
• Trust that life is governed by reason and the extent to which we observe and conform our expectations and actions to the way life really is, the more content we will be.
• All those “outside” things that seem to matter, e.g., power, wealth, reputation, other people’s opinions, the financial markets, the weather, what another person did or said, just don’t matter. Really: they just don’t matter. So, there’s nothing to really worry about when you think about it. You always have control over what you chose to think and how you chose to react. You are free inside if you are willing to claim this freedom.
Copyright © by Sharon Lebell 2021