The Stoic conception of the Sage has undergone some changes throughout time. It has variously been an achievable human ideal but one of exception, seen as an achievable sort of “every-man’s virtue,” and an unachievable ideal used as a model against which to measure behavior. We’ve talked about two of these on the blog, that I can recall readily.
Marcus’ continued exercise stands as a reminder that we can find examples of appropriate actions (καθήκοντα) without going too far. It is easy to look to people from whom we’re separated by great spans of time and space: Epictetus, Diogenes, Zeno, and then to imagine ourselves so far from that ideal. However, we can also look more closely to home: to mentors, teachers, family members, and the good folks we come across every day. These folks may not be Sages, but it’s entirely possible that their actions and attitudes can provide a mirror for our own progress.
A co-worker may handle set backs, and tough management with a seemingly unnatural aplomb. We can admire that, and seek to inculcate that same project from a Stoic perspective. They may not take the same route to get there that we do, but the action is certainly appropriate to one making progress.
A family friend may handle the declining health and eventual loss of a parent with care, kindness, and genuine affection. Such is certainly appropriate for us in our familial roles.
A good friend may decline dessert, have but one drink, exercise moderately, and choose good foods: the very picture of moderation and self-control. Certainly this is appropriate for the practicing Stoic?
Examples of “good behavior” abound, and (for those in the US), maybe especially needed during a period of general discourtesy and social tension.