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Exploring Stoicism

The Shipwreck To Stoicism And Renowned Stoic Personalities

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By Prathamesh Kapse | 16th July, 2023

Discover the profound philosophy of Stoicism in this insightful article series. Learn how the shipwreck of Zeno of Citium led to the creation of Stoicism, and explore the influence of prominent Stoic personalities like Nelson Mandela and Marcus Aurelius. Uncover the basic principles of Stoicism that can empower you to navigate life's challenges with wisdom, courage, and inner tranquility.

Exploring Stoicism: Part One.

This is the first article from a series of articles about Stoicism and the teachings of renowned Stoic Philosophers. 

The Shipwreck To Stoicism.

Zeno of Citium, from the island of Cyprus, was a Phoenician merchant. On one of his voyages, sailing through a heavy storm, his ship got wrecked. All of his wealth now accounted for nothing. Once a wealthy man was now poorer than he could have ever imagined.

What would a normal person do in this scenario? Blame the storms, blame god for this doing, blame the sea? Those sound like normal reactions. But if Zeno were one of us, Stoicism wouldn’t have existed. Zeno maintained his control over the things he could control. The shipwreck was not in anybody’s hands and nor was the damage.

The thing that could be controlled was Zeno’s reaction to the overall situation. Instead of whining, crying, and being miserable about what had just happened with his life’s wealth, Zeno maintained his calm over the situation. The core principles of Stoicism are acceptance and indifference. The Father of Stoicism read works of philosophers like Socrates and created and taught Stoicism.

We can’t control what happens to us. What we can control is how we react to it. Bad things happen to us all the time. We are sad because unexpected bad things happen to us.

Renowned Stoic Personalities.

Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison. After he was released, he went on to become the President of South Africa. People thought Mandela would get revenge on the people who made him go to prison. But, we all know that’s not true. While in prison, he read the works of Marcus Aurelius, a Roman Emperor who was also a firm believer in Stoic Philosophy. This induced the virtues of Stoicism in his mindset which made him the great man and leader that he was.

Marcus Aurelius was deeply influenced by Stoicism from a young age. He advocated for justice, kindness, empathy towards others, and courage, which are the basic principles of Stoicism. Marcus Aurelius' contributions to Stoicism, particularly through "Meditations," have made him one of the most well-known Stoic philosophers in history.

Not only leaders or kings follow stoic principles but also actors of modern society like Tom Hardy, Russell Crowe, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, and Matthew McConaughey have let Stoic principles into their lives. While they may or may not have directly expressed believing in the stoic principles, a lot of their perspective about life aligns with stoicism. Matthew McConaughey has mentioned being “drawn” to Stoic Ideas and Philosophies.

Stoicism was knowledge available to everyone. Zeno and his disciples would gather in open spaces making the knowledge free for everyone. They believed everyone in the society could benefit from this knowledge and they were right. Seneca, a prominent Stoic Philosopher was a statesman. More about his teachings in a later article. Epictetus, another prominent Stoic Philosopher, was a slave. Marcus Aurelius, as discussed above, was a Roman Emperor. This clearly backs the fact that everyone in society could benefit from Stoicism.

Stoicism: The Basic Principles.

Stoicism focuses on the individual. Each principle of Stoicism will make you get the better out of yourself. If the world is burning down, (which might just happen if the trajectory doesn’t change) Stoicism will show you what you can do and what you can not to make things better for you and for others around you.

Rather than trying to change the world, Stoicism asks you to change yourself, your perspective of the world, and your perspective of living. It allows you to and makes you more capable of dealing with the world as it is through self-improvement. The Stoics believe self-improvement can be done through the improvement of these four cardinal virtues.

1. Practical Wisdom

2. Temperance

3. Justice

4. Courage

Overall, Stoicism is a philosophy that aims at inner tranquility, peace of mind, and at the same time, mental success, not material. The basic principles of stoicism say the following.

1. Understanding the dichotomy of control: The Stoics believe that it is a very important task to analyze the things that are in our control and the things that aren’t. Understanding what isn’t in your control can free you from the unnecessary worries and stresses of daily life.

2. Focus on what you can control: Once you understand what you can control, one of the core principles of stoicism is not worrying about the things that are not in your control. As long as I’m writing this article, everything is in my control. I can take the best of everything and make it one article for my readers. I can spend hours trying to perfect it. Everything is in my control. But as soon as I hit upload, I give up control. The control is taken by the Search Engine and any processes that go into showing you the article. Still, we compare success by views, likes, comments, and ratings. I should not be worrying about what I can’t control.

3. Motion and action are two different things: Sometimes, we spend so much time figuring out the best way to do something, we forget to actually do the thing. “I am figuring out the best way to approach this problem.” That’s being in motion. “I’m solving this problem with any approach that I find plausible.” That’s taking action. Being in motion makes you believe you are doing important stuff but all you are doing is controlled procrastination. Delusion, as someone might call it. In contrast to this, taking action gets you where you want to be.

4. What is there to be proud of?: ‘Ego’. ‘Ego’ is the enemy of what you have achieved and what you ever will achieve. It leads to arrogance, anger, stubbornness, and recklessness. Believing that you are much more important than you actually are. It’s not correlative to self-confidence but it’s being overconfident in one’s own capabilities and if that wasn’t enough, bragging about those capabilities to your own self so much that you start looking down on the people who don’t achieve as much as you do. Does all of this sound good? No, right? So, get rid of it.

5. Be virtuous: Practice qualities and behaviors that are not only morally but also mentally and physically excellent and beneficial. This can include wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice as discussed earlier in the article. Courage, here, does not only mean courage that is shown in extraordinary situations like sky-diving or deep-sea diving but the courage that is required for facing and performing daily tasks and work.

6. Detach yourself from what’s unnecessary and indifferent: Cultivate indifference in your daily life. Clinging onto things that are not going to change, in any way, the happiness you receive from yourself and from your life overall is really unnecessary. Stoics believe that one’s well-being isn’t determined by external circumstances but, by the way we respond to those circumstances. This brings us back to the first principle- Focusing on what you can control.

7. Be the best version of yourself: Stoicism is often viewed as being content with what you have and not lingering to the emotional extremes. Although it is partially true, Stoicism also focuses on making ourselves the best versions of ourselves. Practice self-discipline and self-mastery. Be the master of your mind. Practice self-control. Don’t let your feelings conquer your mind. As Mike Tyson once said, Train your mind to be stronger than your feelings.

8. Acceptance: Learn to accept things the way they are. Bad things keep happening to us all the time. We become sad because unexpected bad things happen to us. It is very important to understand that life is not coming at you but, from you.

These ways are the ways of The Stoics. As mentioned earlier, people often consider Stoics as ones who don’t linger to emotional extremes like anxiety and going through fits of rage. But, Stoics are just people who cultivate the ability to control what’s in their control which is their response and action.

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