– My political beliefs
– My ideas of family
– My nationalism
– My support for a state
– My theism or atheism (sometimes anti-theism)
– My support for popular causes
– My dislike of certain “indifferent things”
– My like of other “indifferent things”
How many of us have a box of our favorite things which we’ve haphazardly scrawled “STOICISM” across the side? Inside this box of decades’, generations’ worth of baggage, is there much room leftover for the ideas of Epictetus?
How about Marcus’s reminders to himself?
The lectures of Musonius, do those have a home in this box of my favorite things?
Maybe, this thing I’m calling Stoicism, is simply a label for a new demagoguery, that reinforces all my biases by applying a systematic slant to them. “See!” I can say, “there’s a good reason that I should prefer this to that, treat this as indifferent, and lobby for my favorite politician of choice!” Fate forbid, call it a vice, it’s indifferent!
“Watch your own conduct thus and you will discover to what school you belong. You will find that most of you are Epicureans and some few Peripatetics, but with all the fibre gone from you. Where have you shown that you really hold virtue to be equal to all else, or even superior?
Show me a Stoic if you can! Where or how is he to be found? You can show me men who use the fine phrases of the Stoics, in any number, for the same men who do this can recite Epicurean phrases just as well and can repeat those of the Peripatetics just as perfectly; is it not so?
Who then is a Stoic?
Show me a man moulded to the pattern of the judgements that he utters, in the same way as we call a statue Phidian that is moulded according to the art of Phidias. Show me one who is sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy. Show him me. By the gods I would fain see a Stoic. Nay you cannot show me a finished Stoic; then show me one in the moulding, one who has set his feet on the path. Do me this kindness, do not grudge an old man like me a sight I never saw till now.”
— Epictetus, Discourses II.19
Am I studying Stoicism, am I trying to be a Stoic? Or am I taking refuge in a label? Am I being a Stoic, or am I just saying I’m a Stoic? Do I really try to inculcate virtue as the sole good, or am I an undercover Epicurean? Can I show it, in my every day life? Can I see the skill with which I weigh impressions and assent or deny them? Can the others in my life say, “There’s something good going on there,” ?
“Nay you cannot show me a finished Stoic; then show me one in the moulding, one who has set his feet on the path.”
One thought on “A box of my favorite things, with “STOICISM” scrawled on the side”
This is an important point in the modern world since we almost all come to Stoicism through the written word rather than a live Stoic teacher. Our interpretation may just be our own beliefs projected onto the literature with no corrections. However, on-line groups may provide some corrective since Stoicism seems to be particularly prone to misinterpretation due to the paucity of original documents.