A tiny article about Stoicism has had a significant influence on my life since I read it. Maybe for the first time in my adult life, I don’t feel like I’m wasting much of my time. I feel unusually prepared to do difficult things.
It was a short personal essay by Elif Batuman, about how reading Epictetus helped her through a strained relationship, political turmoil in her country of residence, and other messy or insoluble worldly concerns.
It also prompted me to start reading what are sometimes called the “big three” Stoic works, The Discourses and The Enchiridion by Epictetus, and The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, who in his spare time was the Emperor of Rome.
I knew the basic idea of Stoicism, and it made sense: don’t freak out about what you can’t control. It’s perfectly logical. But logical isn’t always practical, at least for a species whose members typically can’t even fulfill their own new year’s resolutions.
Humans have never been short on sensible-sounding advice: spend less than you earn, don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today, be patient, don’t drink coffee after 6pm. What we’re short of is whatever quality it takes to get ourselves to do those things.
But I wasn’t giving the Stoics enough credit. So far, their advice is very practical—more self-improvement suggestions than philosophical ideas. Read More