Principles of Stoicism

Stoicism is a philosophy rooted in ancient Greek and Roman philosophers. Stoicism lessons were employed by prominent people during history. Marcus Aurelius, Frederick the Great, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith, and Theodore Roosevelt are a few examples of people touched by this philosophy. Stoicism provides a tool to better survive in a high-stress work environment. That is the main reason for its popularity in Silicon Valley. The main theme of Stoicism is to be in harmony with nature. Stoicism is the art of extra-realism and provides modern humans with guardrails to tolerate the unbearable of life. It opens our eyes to see reality the way it is. At the same time, it crafts a moralistic worldview for us in an idealistic fashion. It is a way of life that makes its practitioners more just, wise, tolerant, content, courageous, moderate, and realistic.

Stoic philosophers employ three tools to harmonize themselves with nature. First, Logic allows us to interpret and analyze the reality of our world. Second, Physics (natural sciences) provides us with raw materials and laws that govern our world. Lastly, Ethics allows us to navigate our way in a just manner through the ever-growing complexity of human interactions. Stoicism has painted a picture of the world based on these tools. According to them, nature is the ultimate source of rationality and is led by laws of reason. A life guided by this rationality is virtuous. The grandiose virtue is wisdom. Pleasure can be chased if it is in harmony with virtue. Poverty, illness, and death are not evil. They are in fact necessary and in harmony with nature.

The four main virtues praised by stoics are justice, wisdom, courage, and temperance. Justice is above all virtues because it is directly influential on the rest of the virtues. Marcus Aurelius himself said that “justice is the source of all the other virtues.” Wisdom is greatly admired by stoics. They advised us to listen more often than we speak. Courage is exposing your genuine self to the world without being apologetic. Nature has created a unique version of every human and the ultimate goal is to express this uniqueness. Temperance is the practice of moderation in any aspect of your life. Moderation is doing the right thing in the right manner, at the right time, in the right amount.

Two of the great ancient Stoics were Marcus Aurelius (Roman emperor) and Seneca (Nero's tutor). "Meditations" is a famous book authored by Marcus Aurelius. In his book, which is written as self-talk, he provides his advice on how to handle the responsibilities of his position as an Emperor. Virtues such as patience, empathy, tolerance, justice, and strength were taught in his book. "Letters from a Stoic" written by Seneca, is a collection of moral letters that Seneca is given to his friend Lucilius. In this book, he provides his view on wealth, power, and religion. One of the letters in his book is on the shortness of life. In Seneca's opinion, life is not short but we waste most of it on unnecessary things.

A few selected quotes by Marcus Aurelius:

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be One.”

“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.”

“In your actions, don’t procrastinate. In your conversations, don’t confuse. In your thoughts, don’t wander. In your soul, don’t be passive or aggressive. In your life, don’t be all about business.”

“If it is not right, do not do it, if it is not true, do not say it.”

“The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.”

“Choose not to be harmed — and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed — and you haven’t been.”

“External things are not a problem. It’s your assessment of them. Which you can erase right now.”

“If anyone can refute me—show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective—I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone.”

“Be tolerant of others and strict with yourself.”

A few selected quotes by Seneca:

“We are more often frightened than hurt, and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.”

“No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.”

“Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well-ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.”

“He who fears death will never do anything worth of a man who is alive.”

“This is our big mistake: to think we look forward to death. Most of death is already gone. Whatever time has passed is owned by death.”

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