The lost strength of stoicism

Marcus Aurelius - Stoic Emperor

Marcus Aurelius – Stoic Emperor      courtesy Wikipedia creative commons

Having lived in the tropics for most of my life, I never expected to be grateful for a week of heavy snowfalls.

This week proved that events that at first appear to be a nuisance can actually provide hidden benefits and opportunities if we look beyond the initial disadvantages.

I was expecting to put in a few days for my commitment to helping my neighbours with the corn harvest that I wrote about in this post.

The daily snowfalls since last week removed any possibility of putting the combine in the fields. I know it has been a frustrating week for farmers trying to get the crops harvested before winter sets in, but it has been a welcome break for me.

I had speaking engagement of various types on four nights this week. On Wednesday evening, it was a speech at the annual dinner of a service club in a country town 33 km away. I had made a commitment, assured the organisers that I would not let them down. Despite the heavy snow, the event was not going to be cancelled.

Putting my faith in my 4WD vehicle and my recently acquired GPS, I set off on the 401, a major highway. All three lanes were snow-covered. With heavy snow still falling, visibility was down to a few feet. The fastest vehicles were large articulated transport trucks and trailers. Altogether a frightening experience for a driver more used to mud and sand tracks in Africa.

After a few minutes, I decided to get off the highway and take the secondary roads, thinking that although they might have deeper snow, they would have much less traffic. I was right, I was able to creep along at 30 to 40 kph, in the middle of the road without worrying about driving into the ditches on either side and with only a rare oncoming car to avoid.

I had allowed plenty of time and got to my destination early, on the way, I was thinking about a topic for the next series of blog posts. As I and thousands of other motorists were enduring the harsh driving conditions to get home or to fulfil commitments, I thought of the strength of stoicism which comes from the philosophy of stoicism.  Originally a school of Hellenistic Philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens around 300 BC, it is largely forgotten or even derided today.

The Dictionary definition of stoicism is: “to be impervious to pain or pleasure”. Epictetus and Seneca’s writings tend to portray stoicism as a sterile condition, repressing emotion. Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic Emperor however, described it more as a moral strength, the ability to endure without complaining.

It is this characteristic of stoicism that appeals to me and is a strength or personality trait that is sadly lacking in the current instant-gratification society.

My nerve-wracking drive through heavy snow on Wednesday and a much longer if slightly less difficult journey to another commitment yesterday reminded me of the benefits of being stoic by:

  • Accepting conditions as they are.
  • Accepting that some things are beyond our power to change – like the snow.
  • Making plans to deal with the situation as best we can.
  • Getting on with the task at hand instead of complaining about it.
  • Remembering that “This too shall pass”. It will not snow for ever.

My topic for the next series will be stoicism and how by adopting the positive teachings of this philosophy, we can better handle life’s challenges and have happy and successful lives.

Right now, I am not sure where this path will lead nor how long it will take, but I invite you to join me on the journey to explore how stoicism can help us and to add your thoughts, ideas, contradictions and arguments to the debate as comments.



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  5 comments for “The lost strength of stoicism

  1. Roberta
    November 21, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    I like this idea for your next set of posts. One, I love philosophy. Two, in many ways I agree with stoicism. For me though there is always also a love, a zest, and joy to life. Stoicism and pleasure are not necessarily mutually opposite. U look forward to your series.

    • November 24, 2014 at 1:09 pm

      Thank you Roberta, I too do not see stoicism and pleasure as opposites.

  2. November 26, 2014 at 10:32 am

    This topic is close to my heart. Your examples used above guarantee a great journey. Of course being stoic does not rule out the ability to express True Emotion.
    Do you think sometimes there is misunderstanding about that?

    • November 26, 2014 at 8:06 pm

      Most definitely, as in my reply to Roberta I do not see a conflict between pleasure or true emotion and stoicism. I will be expanding on this in the next post,

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