Of friendship and Loneliness.

The Stoics are misunderstood lot. Much of what they say is quoted without regard to the context of wider Stoic philosophy.

One such quote is a wise man is content with himself. This seems to suggest that Stoics are reclusive people who shun other people because they have somehow managed to switch off their emotional need for people. This is not the case.

Stoics understand instead that things such as friendships, much like love, are beyond their control and do not assume such things will last forever. They feel the loss of friends, but understand that like wealth, it is something great to have and one should enjoy and appreciate them assuming you do not get so attached to them that you cannot live without them. In the event such blessings are lost, Stoics are prepared for the losses because they practice negative visualization. In this sense they are content with themselves, that they can do without friends, not that they desire not to have them.

In fact Seneca advocates making new friends, saying that making a new friend is a pleasure akin to an artist working on a masterpiece. The process of painting gives the artist more pleasure than the final masterpiece. (Is this flow discussed by the early Stoics?) He also compares it with bringing up children, that while as parents we appreciate their achievements when they are older, we remember more fondly their helpless infancy.

Extracts from Letters from a Stoics

By Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Letter VIII