Flashcards in Daily Stoic Deck (77)
Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but some day not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away.
Marcus Aurelius summed up life along similar lines: “Everything’s destiny is to change, to be transformed, to perish. So that new things can be born.” Nothing is permanent. Not failure. Not pain. Not fame. Not fortune. Not you. Not anyone.
death was a process—it was happening to us right now. We are dying every day, he said. Even as you read this email, time is passing that you will never get back. That time, he said, belongs to death.
Hillel was asked to explain the Torah.
“Love thy neighbor as thyself,” he said. “All the rest is commentary.”
Courage. Temperance. Justice. Wisdom. Or maybe they would have given you a sentence that implied those four words: “It’s not what happens to you in life, but how you respond.” Meaning that every situation calls for us to respond with those four virtues.
Observers of the presidency have observed that only the impossible problems make their way to the Oval Office. Everything that’s clean and easy? That gets decided down lower in the chain of command. It’s the intractable, no-win situations that get escalated to the leader’s desk.
It might seem like an easy decision to us in retrospect, but that’s because the decision was never offered to us.
Leadership, like life, is often a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils. It’s about making the best of bad situations. It’s about being pragmatic and realistic.
We live in the real world. Where there are only hard decisions. Where the easy, simple problems get greedily gobbled up by lesser men and women. It’s the tough stuff that falls on us.
“Don’t let your reflection on the whole sweep of life crush you,” said Marcus Aurelius. “Don’t fill your mind with all the bad things that might still happen. Stay focused on the present situation.” Seize the present moment, concentrate on it like a Roman. Don’t get distracted. Don’t dwell on regret, don’t give in to anxiety. Look at what is in front of you, look at it with everything you have.
The present moment is the same for everyone, no matter their job, no matter how well or how terrible things have been going. The present is all anyone possesses. To waste it, to let it escape you, to fritter it away with fear or frustration, is not only to set yourself up for failure, it is a rejection of a beautiful gift.
Focus on the now. Be where you are… while you still can.
Stoicism, as we have said, is not the elimination of all emotion. It’s the regulation of them.
It’s OK to be surprised. It’s OK to be scared. It’s OK to be hurt, Seneca said. No amount of philosophy can remove that initial feeling, but what you can work towards is getting to a place where you’re not ruled by these things.
My mother’s advice was, don’t lose time on useless emotions like anger, resentment, remorse, envy. Those, she said, will just sap time; they don’t get you where you want to be. One way I coped with times I was angry: I would sit down and practice the piano. I wasn’t very good at it, but it did distract me from whatever useless emotion I was feeling at the moment.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
A Stoic isn’t an emotionless robot. They’re also not a body at the whim of every feeling originating from the heart and brain. We are in control. Our ruling reason makes the decisions.
Forgiveness is a critical part of that virtue of “justice” to the Stoics. But it’s hard. It doesn’t just happen. It’s something we have to work on, will ourselves to do, as Pete said.
every time he thinks about them or talks about them, he says to himself, “I forgive them.” It’s an active process, something he is constantly working on, willing himself towards. Because it won’t happen on its own, and because it’s vitally important if he wants to be a good father himself (and not made miserable in the present by old wounds from the past.)
This pain is real. It is not fair. But we have to figure out how to process it, how to move past it. Stoicism is not, as we’ve talked about, simply the stuffing down of one’s emotions. It’s not pretending that feelings don’t exist.
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you. - Philip Larkin
"Seneca said that misfortune lands most heavily when it was not expected. The idea of practicing, envisioning, training for all the contingencies of life, of a game, of a trying situation? This is how we ensure we’re able to navigate it correctly. Winging it? That’s for amateurs. Pros? They prepare."
You have to practice. You have to be ready. For any of it. For whatever it is that your life may bring. Or you’re going to get crushed.
is not about tempting fate. It’s about being ready for any fate. Positive visualization without negative visualization is just dreaming—it’s fantasy. Visualization without preparation, without work? It’s worthless.
losing one’s temper was a vice and that other people could not make us angry. We choose to get upset.
A friend of Ulysses S. Grant couldn’t understand why this West Point grad was selling firewood. “I am solving the problem of poverty,” Grant replied. Meaning: A Stoic does what they have to do. They play the hand they were dealt, even if it’s beneath them or exhausting. In fact, the Stoic doesn’t believe that any job—any profession or action—is beneath them if it is what life is demanding of them. To the Stoic, a dollar earned honestly is a good one. To a Stoic, a job done well is a good one.
Even if they’d choose otherwise if given the opportunity. Even if their education entitles them to something else. Even if it gets them dirty or wears them out.
We do what we have to do. Nothing is below us. Because we do everything we do right.
Instead of getting angry at other people’s poor execution, focus on the deficiencies in your instruction. Instead of resenting their protest, examine whether you’ve been persuasive enough. Don’t get mad about red tape—think about all the bad ideas this process actually has helped stop. Be forgiving of other people’s stupidity or rudeness—because you’ve been plenty guilty of it yourself at one time or another.
The world is not conspiring against us. It is not filled with dunces. If anything, we are the dunces for not focusing our energy on the only things that matter:
success and wealth are often won at the cost of life.
There’s no anguish, despair, or discontent present in the marvelling mind. There’s complete tranquility and stillness—the height of brilliance.
Ego was a natural temptation for them, as it is for you, as it is for anyone in a position of leadership or influence.
Which is why we have to actively work against it—to remind ourselves that we’re not nearly so popular or special as we think.
To Marcus, his temperance, his courage, his justice, his wisdom: none of these were remarkable. They were his duty, his obligations as a person. He was too busy doing them to think about them, let alone want to be recognized or celebrated for them. “Concentrate on what you have to do,” he told himself. “Fix your eyes on it. Remind yourself that your task is to be a good human being; remind yourself what nature demands of people. Then do it, without hesitation.”
Remind yourself of it, too: if you want to be great, do your job. Focus on your task. Ignore everything else. Push ego away. Fight, as Marcus said, to be the person philosophy wants you to be.
Fix your eyes. Be a good person. Do your duty. Be great.
No matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be good. Like gold or emerald or purple repeating to itself, “No matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be emerald, my color undiminished.”