Stoicism – Foundation of Survival


Sometimes things go wrong

11 tons corn overflow

I started writing about stoicism in this post on 21 November, then had to rely on my own ability to be stoic to get through the following few weeks until the corn harvest was over.

During the long hours running the corn drier, I was kept busy checking moisture levels, climbing up ladders to check tank levels and listening for any change in the sound of dozens of augurs, elevators, fans and other equipment.


Listening for changes in sound because quick reactions to a choked elevator for example, can save hours of clearing up tons of spilled corn.

There were some benefits; I lost 3 kg or 6 1/2 lbs and got brief periods when I could think, no computer or phone distractions.

What’s the difference between stoicism and endurance.

Endurance is what gets us through relatively short, more or less defined, periods of physical or mental stress. Without endurance, we will not run a marathon or survive traumatic periods of adversity. But endurance on its own is merely survival, not survival with growth, advancement or added strength.

Stoicism gives us the strength to endure long or short periods of adversity, suffering or hardship and emerge from them stronger than before. To accept, learn and benefit from them. To endure them without being diminished. To endure without yearning for that or those which have been lost.

Stoicism allows us to accept the unknown, to be prepared to endure something as yet unclear. To move forward in the face of impending adversity. To calmly decide to make the most of a situation that we cannot fully imagine. We do not know how bad it may get, how long it may take, what or who we will lose.

Stoicism prepares us to accept the worst that could happen while calmly preparing to make the most of whatever life will throw at us and get on with it without complaining or making excuses.

With the corn harvest out of the way, I have got back to my daily writing schedule and have hit my target of 100 000 words for my book. Today I was writing about the period leading up to my arrest and detention by the police for committing the non-crime of refusing to leave our legally owned farm in Zimbabwe in 2002.

That period provided me with a clear distinction between endurance and stoicism.

Here’s why.

In mid 2002 during the illegal farm invasions in Zimbabwe, most of the farms in our district had been invaded, owners and workers forced off, many badly beaten up. Chris, a nearby farmer had been forced off his farm and was staying with his parents on the farm next to ours.

He had been unable to remove all his personal property from his house. Although the farm had been overrun with squatters, the house had been reserved for some official of the ruling party and had not yet been occupied or trashed. One of Chris’ workers who was still on the farm had come to tell Chris that most of the occupiers had temporarily gone away from the farm.

Chris asked me to go with him for security to collect some of his stuff from the farm.

I was seething with anger during the drive along his farm road. I could not imagine that I would have to go through the same trauma of losing my farm, my home. I asked him how he could remain so calm. His reply was that we handle what we have to, life must go on. He also said that just as he was handling it, so would I when my turn came as it surely would in the next few weeks.

Endurance got him through each day, but stoicism allowed him to get on with his life. At the time, he had no idea what he was going to do to generate an income, where he would live. All he knew was that he would keep going, start a new life, endure however many years it took to get back on his feet.

That’s being stoic.

He was right, my turn came a few weeks later, worse and more violent, I never did get back to my farm. I also found the strength of stoicism to choose to survive, not to remain a victim.

12 years on, my life is different to anything I could have imagined in those dark days. Different continent, different hemisphere, different lifestyle, different occupation, different friends. Mostly good, some not so good, but I have survived and grown thanks to the value of stoicism in helping me endure what happened.

How has stoicism served you? Will you be stoic in the face of future adversity?

Leave a comment with your thoughts.

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  3 comments for “Stoicism – Foundation of Survival

  1. Michelle Borré Kosloff
    December 21, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    Good illustrations Peter

  2. December 22, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    Always appreciate your ability to share the Truth, Peter.
    My Take away was from:
    I asked him how he could remain so calm. His reply was that we handle what we have to, life must go on. He also said that just as he was handling it, so would I when my turn came as it surely would in the next few weeks.

  3. Roberta
    January 3, 2015 at 11:05 am

    Late to this discussion for multiple reasons. However, I can commiserate with your plight and that of your neighbor. I cannot imagine losing your farm and home.

    yet all of us have bad times to one degree or the other. I wrote about ‘my time’ that required stoicism in a blog post of mine.

    You might find it interesting:

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