SLRP: LXXVI. On Learning Wisdom In Old Age (Part 1: 1 – 10)



“But in the [philosopher’s hall], where the question discussed is: “What is a good man?” and the lesson which we learn is “How to be a good man,” very few are in attendance, and the majority think that even these few are engaged in no good business; they have the name of being empty-headed idler. I hope I may be blessed with that kind of mockery; for one should listen in an unruffled spirit to the railings of the ignorant; when one is marching toward the goal of honour, one should scorn scorn itself.”

The world is a funny place.  Commonly, we admire (at least) two types of people based on differing sets of virtues.  For regular folks, let’s call them householders for ease, we admire a strong work ethic, monetary and property-based success, family orientation, forthrightness, and politeness.  For marginal persons, (and by this I mean holy people, philosophers, etc) we admire the very opposite.  We admire their denial of worldly things, oftentimes a celibate (or at least chaste) lifestyle, community focus, and wisdom.  We often except these folks from the decorm of politeness, we allow for behaviors and eccentricities which we do not allow in householders.

What’s funny about this, is that we expect a 100% choice.  A person living in the world, but no doing the monetary or property success game is seen as odd.  Take for instance, the modern Tiny House movement.  The folks often have families, usually work in normal jobs, but they’re set apart.

For the average person, someone dedicating a significant portion of their life to these “non-worldly” pursuits is an outlier.  As your letter notes, dear Seneca, they are seen as lazy, or (worse yet!) … poor.  It’s a strange thing that what we admire in the most extreme sort: monks, nuns, sadhus, priests, etc., becomes a thing of scorn in lesser amounts.

And with this extra time, we’re asking questions about what it means to be good, the bonds and obligations of social and rational creatures, how we can fulfill our place in the cosmos.  No small things, these.  Lazy, indeed.

Anyway, thank you for the letter, I look forward to the rest of this one.


Part of Michel Daw’s Reading Plan of Seneca’s Letters.

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