The Stoic Assumption of Strength

I ask you why should any real man be afraid of hardship, or any human being be afraid of death? I constantly meet people who think that what they themselves can't do can't be done, who say that to bear up under the things we Stoics speak of is beyond the capacity of human nature. How much more highly I rate these people's abilities than they do themselves!
Seneca: Letters From A Stoic: CIV

Stoicism expects you to be strong. When you feel overwhelmed, Stoicism instructs you to find courage. When you feel annoyed, Stoicism says, "Change your attitude." While others may act selfishly, Stoicism demands that you act for the good of all, including the selfish ones. Stoicism places the-world-as-it-is on your back and assumes that you will bear it with good will. Too many belief systems begin with and act from an assumption of human frailty. They seek to protect weak-willed practitioners from the realities of life and demand that the society around them change to save them from struggle. Stoicism will have none of that. Know yourself, then fix yourself, that's the calling of a Stoic.

I once attended a Southern California church that asked women to stop wearing tank tops in the summer in order to, "help their brothers out." Apparently the males of the church found lady parts (in this case, exposed arm skin) distracting. Instead of focusing on strengthening the men of their congregation, the leadership asked the women of the church to get sweaty and uncomfortable for the benefit of these ridiculously weak-willed boys. You won't find this sort of coddling in the Stoa. In the same situation any student who came to a Stoic teacher complaining of distracting lustful thoughts would be asked, "what are you going to do to fix yourself?"

Students, the philosopher’s school is a doctor’s office. You must leave not pleased, but pained.
Musonius Rufus

The Stoic teacher, Epictetus, says that the main characteristic of the foolish person is that, "he never expects either benefit or hurt from himself, but from externals." A guy like this will expect other people to change just to accommodate his own struggles. He'll tell people how they should act or dress in order to make him feel better. Not that any of these external changes will help. Cover up all the bare skin in the world and this person will continue to dwell on what's underneath. When Epictetus goes on to mark the characteristics of Stoics who are making progress he says they censure no one, praise no one, blame no one, accuse no one, and when they are hindered or restrained, they blame themselves (Enchiridion 48). They don't expect the world to remove obstacles from their path. Instead, Stoics challenge themselves to become better suited to the world. 

Now let me emphasis that the strength I'm addressing here is moral strength. It's the application of our will towards virtuous actions. Stoicism does not deny the very real inequities of power that cause so much injustice in this world. Stoicism simply believes we can act with virtue in spite of those factors. It's true that our philosophy devotes the lion's share of its teaching towards developing strong willed, virtuous Stoics, and rightly so. The mind of the individual student is where change begins. That said, virtue is only virtue if it builds up the society around us. As Marcus Aurelius put it, "Your only joy, and your only rest, is to pass from one action performed in the service of the human community to another action performed in the service of the human community..."

So get strong. Do the hard work of philosophy. Challenge and change your inner thoughts. If you feel like blaming others for your frailties, get over yourself. Oh, and if you find other people blaming you for their feelings...suck it up and do what they ask. Check out Chapter 46 of the Enchiridion, "at a party, don't talk about how people ought to eat, just eat as you ought." It's not stoic to expect non-Stoics to act stoically. Rate your own abilities as highly as Stoicism does. Rise to its challenge. Exercise discipline. Be strong.

Get It Together: A Challenge

I need to get my shit together. I use that particular phrase because I've just been introduced to Get Your Shit Together dot org. GYST is a life and death planning site that encourages people to prepare for the fact that you are going to die.  Do you have a Will? A Living Will? Life insurance? Does your significant other know the passwords to important websites? There's a lot to cover. GYST is there to point out that preparation for death involves a fair amount of paperwork.

As a stoic, I'm also supposed to be preparing for death with my mind. To us, death is part of nature and nothing that is natural should be unexpected. Therefore we prepare ourselves for change. We use negative visualization to rehearse loss. As Seneca said, "We live in the middle of things which have all been destined to die. Mortal have you been born, to mortals have you given birth." Personally, I find this rehearsal very calming. Yet, for all the time spent thinking about endings, I have done very little to prepare for my own.

Get Your Shit Together gives me a chance to take a stoic spiritual practice and apply it to paperwork. I can take the steps necessary to alleviate the stress on my wife if an accident were to happen or illness suddenly struck me. I'm issuing a challenge to myself, one that I believe would benefit any practicing stoic. I'm going to get my shit together this year. After all, it's the stoic thing to do.