Stoicism is an underappreciated philosophy, and a virtue with much to offer the world today.
It may be a grandiose-sounding term and a mysterious concept, but it should be neither. As pragmatic a practice as it is, it ought to be a household word and a course in every school.
Stoicism is simply an ancient Greek philosophy dedicated to seeking the ideal life by the daily practice of key virtues such as courage, patience, moderation, tolerance and resilience to misfortune.
How great is that?
Moreover, stoics strive to avoid emotions such as fear, greed and egotism that lead to mistakes and errors of passion.
So, a key point: A stoic doesn’t care what a person says or believes: the only thing that matters is what people actually do.
We all know and occasionally practice some stoic principles through the slogans of our elders: “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,” “grit your teeth,” “keep a stiff upper lip,” or my favorite from John Wayne: “A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.”
Many of our fellow Americans still say these things in certain situations without thinking about applying the broader concept of stoicism throughout our daily lives or – God forbid – making stoicism a primary approach to virtue. We would be wise to do so.
Today’s social media algorithms gorge us on things people are saying over and over, and they stuff what people “believe” down our throats, driving us to dyspepsia. There may be no truth hidden in these words and beliefs, but many of our fellow citizens – lacking discernment and wisdom of experience – feed on this foul fodder, emote negativity and thus live a life of errors.
The evidence is everywhere: refusal to accept personal responsibility for our individual circumstances; helicopter parents who refuse to make their children grow up and stand on their own two feet; the hysterical meltdowns of snowflakes triggered by someone, anyone really, suggesting their beliefs are flawed; the blind acceptance as gospel truth of whatever they see on Tik-Tok or Instagram; the shark-like feeding frenzy of cancel culture turning on each other when blood is in the water, chewing every bit into chum; and the anarchy of street rioting by the 100% incorrectly named Antifa when it was clearly using every page of the fascist playbook.
History suggests a more Stoic approach to life may help.
The Greatest Generation grew up with nothing in a time of suffering (the Great Depression) and became great enough to defeat fascism, socialism, communism, disease, poverty and self-doubt. This generation sacrificed everything for others while gritting their teeth and just getting on with it.
During my combat tour in Iraq, I wrote home to my young teen children with this advice: “Stop whining and get on with it. Whining may make you feel good for a while but it never gets the job done, never pays a bill, and only makes people think you are a whining dork. Getting on with it is what has to be done eventually, so you are better off gritting your teeth again and charging ahead now – despite the pain or worry – than you are sitting around moping, whining, and feeling sorry for yourself, and then after all that you still have to get on with it sooner or later.”
In these United States we live in a time when everything is someone else’s fault. Everyone demands total freedom but refuses to accept the concurrent responsibility to use those freedoms prudently. Being offended is a virtue to be shared as broadly as possible. Striking at those who offend you with napalm carpet bombing is seen as the appropriate reaction.
Stoics are handling today’s America much better than the emotive masses, thank you very much. Stoics recognize the world does not revolve around us, so we are better prepared to deal with life when the world revolves otherwise.
Stoics have a grasp of perspective, and know there is always a reversion to the statistical mean. Stoics understand the bell curve, and that the standard distribution of a population is universal. Stoics have the evidence of history for support that “this too shall pass”; we have seen this before, or at least have read about it before, and are less likely to repeat past mistakes.
A good suggestion would be to teach Stoic thought in school at a young age, but alas, no philosophy is being taught at all except for communalism and Maoist approaches. “It’s not my fault,” and “someone must be to blame,” and “what’s yours is mine” are the philosophies de jure.
In the poor rural countryside where I grew up, we were taught “boys don’t cry.” Now children are being taught boys can get pregnant and have babies. We have an out-of-control federal government actively seeking to gather ever-more power into the hands of the few, especially an unaccountable, unconstitutional judiciary illegally creating laws day after day.
The left caves into fear and surrenders to passionate spewing – raging, but making no difference. Stoics grit their teeth, maintain perspective, keep the nose to the grindstone, keep being productive, effective, and efficient, and know the worm will turn.
John Wayne had another thing to say about those who believe feeling is the highest virtue, enabling rioting, flash theft mobs, and vagrants to defecate on the city streets: “Life is hard. It’s harder when you’re stupid.”
Stoics know you reap what you sow, and the solution is to stop whining and get on with it.