Stoicism: Conversations, Quotations, Ideas

Welcome to the stoicism thread! Feel free to share what you’re reading, listening to, or thinking about.

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I’ll start with my favorite quote, from Epictetus (my favorite Stoic and a notable disabled person from history!):

“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”

I think about this a lot and it helps me challenge my assumptions on things I think I know, especially from personal experience. It helps me limit my tendency to extrapolate from my own experience and apply things too generally.

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I’m quite new to Stoicism, so I’ve been listening to several TED talks about it and I liked these two because they explained how it can literally save your life if you’re suffering from depression, bipolar disorder or other emotional problems.

How philosophy can save your life | Jules Evans | TEDxBreda
I learned that CBT was inspired by ancient Greek Philosophy and I saved this quote from Epictetus to use it as a mantra when I start spiralling : People are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them. Thank you @AllHat . I didn’t know Epictetus was disabled, I’m even more inspired. I’ll look more into his story and writing.

Why you should define your fears instead of your goals | Tim Ferriss
Tim Ferris explained how he suffers from bipolar depression with 50+ major depressions and how he even considered suicide at some point. Stoicism is the tool he uses to avoid ‘emotional free fall’. He shares how he adapted an exercise from Seneca called ‘premeditatio malorum’ that he adapted to create a ‘fear-setting’ exercise. I saved this quote from Seneca that hit home We suffer more often in imagination than in reality. I’m still to try the exercise but I really liked the idea of defining my fears and putting in paper the worst that can happen, how I can prevent it, what would be the outcome if I do nothing and the outcome if I do something.

I was introduced to Stoicism by the Daily Stoic so I recommend the book, the journal and the YouTube channel.

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Thank you for this thread! I don’t know any of this so it’ll be exciting to get acquainted with a new worldview.

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Yay! Glad there is some interest in this topic. Because of the news, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we react to things and the idea of the locus of control. I’m a big believer in not borrowing trouble or living in future anxiety, but I was thinking today about another major benefit of self-focus. I think to people who aren’t familiar with the concept, locus of control seems to be selfish or head-in-the-sand or something only for people who are totally isolated from hardship.

But, I think that being a whole person requires a lot of continuous daily effort regardless of circumstance (it’s just that some people have much bigger or more numerous obstacles). Even without many obstacles, though, being a human being with a lot of inner peace (or however you think of it) is a high effort endeavor. I was thinking about how people often express this, like how there are so many moving parts to life (good sleep, being present, gratitude, spending time with loved ones, earning/managing money, physical activity, journaling, hobbies, getting outdoors, praying/meditating/therapy/introspection, friendship, family obligations, medical needs, volunteering, being generous, forgiveness, it goes on and on).

I believe strongly that humans have finite internal resources (some have more than others) and that balancing our resources is part of the key to good living. I think part of what is helping me right now is understanding that if I expend my precious resources on the 24 hour news cycle, hysterical conversations, picturing what might happen, scrolling, worrying about future appointments, etc. I am literally robbing from myself my ability to do one of the many things that actually helps push me forward in life and brings me actual peace today, like right now.

When I focus on things outside my control I’m stealing not only the practice of discipline , which I say I want, but also the possibility for living in the moment and feeling the actual emotion of gratitude washing over me in the immediate. I’m robbing people around me too, because the best way I can give to others is to be as healthy as possible myself. It’s just not possible to do all the stuff I need to do to be well AND spend a lot of time focused on things that I can’t do anything about anyway, that haven’t happened, etc.

Anyway, I was just thinking about that.

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Also, that’s fascinating! I didn’t know that about CBT but it makes perfect sense. I see huge overlaps.

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Thought I’d share a quote for today, not from a stoic exactly but from a personal hero of mine. I think it qualifies though!

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
– Viktor Frankl

Another of my favorite quotes from an Official Stoic (lol). I think about this much more now that we’re in the social media age, but it’s also ever present in religion and politics. It seems like the opposite is de riguere.

“Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.”
-Epictetus

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:heart: Thanks for sharing; he’s also a personal hero of mine. I started reading recently ‘Man’s search of meaning’ and I am blown away.

This quote remind me of something I’ve seen in another TED Talk / article (How to use design thinking to create a happier life for yourself): if you are not going to change a circumstance in your life, it’s a gravity problem and you must accept it ( eg I hate my job, my partner annoys me, I don’t like my house but I won’t do anything about it). Once you accept it you either ‘work through it’ or ‘work around it’. I’m trying to apply it to all the things in my life that I cannot or would not change.

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Oooo, I loved that book. I read it as a teenager and it was probably one of the most life changing books I have ever read to this day. I should re-read it! I remember how it made me feel so much courage and strength and admiration for the resilience of humankind. I like the concept of a gravity problem too! I’ve never heard it put quite like that but it’s so vivid and accurate.

One thing I took from Frankl’s book was the idea that hardship can forge you into something stronger IF you approach it a certain way. I’d never encountered that idea before, and I see it echoed in a lot of stoicism (and other reading), but especially in this quotation from Seneca, which really hit in me in the gut the first time I read it. It was probably the first time I ever felt a genuine sense of appreciation for many of the events in my life:

“I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent. No one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.”


At the same time, I think both the Stoics and writers similar to Frankl are clear that hardship doesn’t magically equal wisdom or perspective, which is what I was raised to think (like that wisdom was an automatically earned thing as long as you simply survived life’s hardships). I definitely have not found that to be true. But Frankl and the Stoics say it’s how we react to what happens that matters. The fact that it’s possible to live a full life where you encounter plenty of suffering without gaining any wisdom is a terrifying prospect. I think about it with aging, too. I used to think that getting older would change perspectives automatically due to life experience, but it doesn’t necessarily. People say wisdom comes with age but I think that’s only true if you actively pursue wisdom. And yes it takes enormous effort and isn’t easy and it’s sometimes unpleasant, and tiring, and on and on, but I mean, what else could be so worth it?!

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YES. Thank you for pointing this. I am often hard on myself because I think that with some of the things I lived through I would be able to better face adversity. So really focusing on the fact that the only thing that matters if how I react, what I think about the specific hardship (often imagined I should say) is very liberating. I CAN chose to think differently, I CAN chose to react differently. I CAN control my mind. I guess that in its own is also a gift and I don’t take it for granted. I don’t know that it would be the case for someone suffering from anxiety for example.

Well I’m still guilty of thinking that wisdom comes from age but you’re right it doesn’t guarantee it. For the longest I dreaded aging then at some point, I thought ‘at least I’d be wiser’ and in a sense I am. Not because I’m older but because I have collected some data points and I know what works and what doesn’t work for me. So you’re right it has to be a ‘conscientious pursuit’.

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YES! I feel like this a lot too, like nothing should bother me at all because I’ve already had xyz happen. I have to remind myself that’s not how things work! I find it so liberating too, that I have agency and choices and power. I did not feel like that growing up and it was terrifying; I can’t think of a worse feeling than total helplessness and being completely at the whim of other people/nature/circumstance.

I feel so grateful that I have choices because there are situations where there is no choice or agency whatsoever, and that’s not my circumstance overall. I think a lot of people see scenarios where they actually have lots of choices as having no choices since the most ideal without any downside option isn’t attainable with zero effort, instantly. Or because there is a major obstacle, so therefor impossible without even trying.

I think with things like anxiety it’s probably like a physical handicap where it makes a lot of things harder (or requires workarounds) and maybe a couple of things out of reach altogether (in the most severe instances) but I think depending on the person it can still have a positive impact. Like PT and working out helps my physical condition a lot, it doesn’t make my disability disappear or “cure” it or make me able to do everything everyone else can do, but I am infinitely better off now than I would be if I didn’t put in the effort. If I put in none of the effort because it’s harder for me and I can’t get the perfect results I would be way more limited in my ability level now and have much higher pain, and I might have even had to have more surgeries/meds, etc. So while I don’t get the same level of benefit as an able person, like I have to put in a lot more effort and pain to get a lot less in terms of results, I’m still getting something positive out of it… and it’s my life! So that something counts to me!

That’s how I approach stoicism-things surrounding my PTSD too, like I give myself a bit more allowance for irrationality on those topics, but I still keep in mind that I can impact it and that I have already changed it a lot over time. And that it’s not ok to just lie down and avoid triggers and stay ultra sensitive because I have an obstacle. I still have to work on it. And honestly, the more I read about neurology the more confident I feel that a lot of things are changeable (with effort) and fewer things are immutable. I think I have a lot of advantage when it comes to working on myself mentally due to IQ and not having a major psych condition and also personality type, but I hope that even if I were more heavily disadvantaged psychologically (like I am physically) I would still at least try my hardest to get what improvement I can, just like I do with fitness, etc.

It’s so nice to have the space to discuss this btw! I’m glad you feel a similar sense of dignity and freedom that comes with a lot of these ideas.

Quote of the day:

“Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.” -Marcus Aurelius

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i love that marcus aurelius quote!

i always wanted to be a stoic and i guess i did control my mind and my behavior enough to grow up, get out of chaos, and build a stable life. i always looked at what went on in my childhood (bad!) as something that made me stronger, more adaptable, confident, and independent. and it did!

but there was a lot of other stuff that felt really hard to work with or understand, like mood swings and feeling threatened sometimes out of proportion with how threatened i actually was, etc. because all my positive story-shaping was sitting atop a big backlog of unprocessed feelings and trauma. i feel lucky that my response to the adversity i faced was to mine it for gifts and lesson, and that wasn’t wrong, just incomplete.

since ive been working with that, and learning how to extend compassion to all the parts of me that are scared, the parts that lash out under threat, the parts for whom some stuff comes much harder than it seems to for other people – well, it’s like all the stuff stoics talk about is taken down from the highest shelf and is now much more accessible to me. i feel much more able to work with my own nature and how i have been shaped by life.

i feel like sometimes people use stoicism to drive themselves in what can feel like a cold or intellectual or merciless way. and that doesn’t resonate for me. i have learned that i absolutely need to approach myself with unending compassion and tolerance. i can’t be harsh or stern with myself in any way – it just doesn’t work.

my way of growing is meandering, slow-paced, and has lots of room to stop and stare at the flowers and trees along the way. this might be a little more dionysian than stoic :joy: but i do really appreciate the depth and simplicity of the OG stoics.

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I know what you mean! Not so much in terms of individuals who do that because I don’t know any, but in how writings from the stoics can feel that way! I think especially from backgrounds like ours and people like us with the tendency to swallow everything down, like, it can be hard not see stoicism as an extension of that. I think it’s partly because stoicism is just a philosophy and not a religion, so it does a lot less to describe things like forgiveness, love, our place in the world, what we owe each other, the nature of this life/world, the value of human life, and Bigger Questions in general. I’d say stoicism is kind of devoid of conscience in general, just in that it doesn’t really touch on it much beyond concepts like gratitude and personal responsibility.

Stoicism is much more focused on self governance with the only end being self mastery, not any higher moral level of attainment, IMO. I think because of that stoicism is not a good comprehensive roadmap for living. I think of stoicism as being more on par with minimalism or something. Like, a guide to minimalism might make you a more conscious shopper, impact the environment less, save money, clean your house, etc. But a guide to minimalism is never going to provide you with a total worldview or help you make decisions like, whether a certain job is ethical to take, how much to give to charity, or how we should treat people who hate us, etc.

Thoughts?

(Also googling dionysian now, haha!)

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Also DAMN. Yes yes yes yes yes. I feel this hard. I thought just control was enough for a long time, but it’s totally not.

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ok so i guess we can

  1. invent / publicize trauma-informed stoicism
  2. ???
  3. profit!!

i really liked the distinction you made between stoicism and something that you might consider a full life-governing philosophy like a particular moral framework or religion. it’s like a set of tools that help people be more honest with themselves. those tools could be put into the service of a variety of goals.

one of the tools i particularly like is negative visualization, where you imagine not having some of your current blessings of health or wealth or relationship or whatever. it always helps me appreciate all the great things in my life more fully, even while working and hoping to increase them.

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:joy: We should probably go on Shark Tank like, yesterday. Haha. I love negative visualization. That’s been a game changer for me, especially when it comes to managing high levels of pain/low mobility. It’s actually one of the only things that has any impact on me when I’m in that state. Super helpful. I think it has also made gratitude a more intrinsic part of how I see things. But yeah overall I definitely see it as a set of tools. Like I think it’s internally consistent and super useful and well stated, but it definitely doesn’t encompass everything.

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A thoughtful quotation about friendship, from Seneca:

"If you consider any man a friend whom you do not trust as you trust yourself, you are mightily mistaken and you do not sufficiently understand what true friendship means […] Ponder for a long time whether you shall admit a given person to your friendship; but when you have decided to admit him, welcome him with all your heart and soul. Speak as boldly with him as with yourself.”

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I haven’t had a chance to really dive into this or read stoic text but I did listen to a few short Daily Stoic podcast episodes (can’t remember if that was recommended here or not). I like The Daily Stoic’s Instagram. One of the hardest hitting things I’ve absorbed so far, that seems unique, is the concept of Courage. Sheesh just… Fully call my timid lil ass out there…

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