On Stoicism

This philosophy that proposes indifference to pain and pleasure has been of immense help to many people. Indifference, as I understood it is not rejection or numbness to pain or pleasure but rather a prevention of the outward manifestations of such conditions of life. A good philosophy restricts or redirects one’s particular instincts or emotions to its proper course, meaning those who are overly sensitive and emotional may consider subscribing to stoicism which helps curtail their reactions. On the other hand people who take life too seriously and as a result do not even get the time to enjoy life may subscribe to Epicureanism or any philosophy that proposes such things as hedonism.

In real life we are all hedonists. There are no true stoics because we can only curtail our emotions at a superficial level, we cannot uproot them. Every individual has a peculiar emotional setup, even if born of the same parents, lived in the same family home or attended the same school with others, co-joined twins not excluded. The indifference to pain and pleasure is nothing but an outward indifference since almost everyone we meet are likely to judge us by what we do and say. But at home, in our private lives, who will know whether we ate hot spicy chicken or drunk beer or enjoyed with our love ones or went through pain at the loss of our loved ones. No one will know unless we confess these things with own mouths. So stoicism goes a long way to reduce our troubles in life and bring us peace of mind.

Revealing emotions is generally not helpful in business dealings. If one works in an organisation where colleagues insult or poke fun at the boss behind his or her back, stoicism says simply be indifferent and mind your own business. The reader will agree with me that by this stoic attitude one is likely to avoid 90% of his of her problems not only in that organisation but also in life. But keeping too many painful experiences to oneself can also cause mental or emotional instability. The key then is to share your thoughts with those you trust and those who are like-minded. Perhaps the only area that stoicism doesn’t help much is when one is in love. In love the emotions carry more messages or meanings than words so one shouldn’t hide them. And also in family life, stoicism may be misconstrued as hardheartedness.

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6 thoughts on “On Stoicism

  1. Stoicism is not about covering up one’s emotions, so that other people don’t see how one is affected by events. Rather, it encourages the experience of positive emotions and a reduction in the experience of negative emotions. This is often done by keeping perspective, thinking rationally, and seeing situations, events, and individuals for what they truly are and from this point acting in a way that is most appropriate to living well. For example, one is not expected to avoid grieving when someone close dies (this is, after all, completely natural), rather one should grieve as is sufficient, but not dwell on the pain for an excessive length of time to their detriment. Stoicism helps one grieve sufficiently, fully, and move on to find peace. Love is another example: love can be very positive and improve the quality of one’s life. This is not to be avoided. One should, however, keep perspective about one’s life decisions and choices when in love. It’s about being mindful, reflective, and self-aware in order to help live a better and happier life.

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  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I derive my knowledge of stoicism from Epictetus because I like his exposition on it, although I also know about Zeno. What you call ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ emotions I naturally cannot tell because emotions oscillate, but often we are judged by society through our publicly spoken words and actions. Of course stoicism is not all about covering the emotions (that is impossible) but rather grieving or excitement in private – keeping most of our views to ourselves. According to Epictetus: for the most part be silent, do not talk or laugh much or unrestrainedly. To me, that sounds like self control and discipline or pushing the emotions into the background.

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    • Even the ancients varied in aspects of what they emphasized when it comes to Stoicism. For example, Seneca would say we should not hide our excitement or emotions, but rather be on guard against excessive negative emotion. There is the idea of moderation and self control, but for the most part this should be exercised to prevent distraction from the primary pursuit of life – happiness or joy. In the Stoic sense, happiness is closer to tranquility, which results from the pursuit of virtue.

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      • Thanks for the reply. I am not sure if the pursuit of virtue alone can lead to the ‘tranquility’ you speak of. To fulfill one’s material needs involves great struggle and throughout history men who devoted themselves to virtue have often died poor, without leaving behind any valuable property of their own.

        I guess we can both agree that stoicism fundamentally, involves some form of restraint from mawkish overindulgence. Emotions oscillate so showing ‘positive emotions’ here may give negative meanings there… unrestrained laughter or excitement especially may likely irritate people and give rise to different interpretations. Personally, I have found stoicism to be politically correct and very helpful in human relations.

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  3. I have been called cold hearted most times because I choose to subscribe to stoicism, I feel I protect myself better this way and it does not mean I do not feel things but I choose not to openly show how I feel about the events in my life, by not verbalising those emotions, they do not have power over me. In time they disappear, but to the outside world I am unfeeling and sometimes uncaring…cold hearted. This has hurt to accept because I actually have a warm heart and choose to protect it. I loved reading this

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    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You made me smile. Our minds, based on our life history, knows best how to make us behave under certain unpredictable circumstances. I, for instance, simply go too far but it’s good for me because I can ‘defend’ myself under any circumstances. I have read some of your hearty and inspiring posts and I’m sure you are a warm hearted person but sometimes over-protecting ourselves can send a wrong message. As I said earlier in my post, when it comes to love and family life one needs to speak with his or her feelings – just let it flow whether anger or joy. But then again I think it depends on your personality and psychological environment and what makes you feel most comfortable.

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