Simple Stoic Advice
The beautiful thing about Stoic philosophy is the advice contained within it is just as applicable today as it was when it was first written all those many years ago. We can learn a great deal from interpreting the advice provided and using it to our advantage as we go throughout our own lives.
Today’s quote comes to us courtesy of Seneca and his moral letters, letter 25 from Letters on Ethics:
“Assuredly it is beneficial to set a watch on yourself and to have someone to look up to, someone who you think will make a difference in your plans. To be sure, it is much grander if you live as if some good man were always present and held you in his gaze. But I am satisfied even with this: let everything you do be done as if watched by someone. Solitude encourages every fault in us.”
A big part of Stoic philosophy is the idea of mentors. Many of the Stoics looked back on Socrates as being the epitome of a philosopher. The Stoics also held the concept of the Stoic Sage, a Stoic who could handle any situation, at any time, without being internally or externally perturbed, as a goal. Seneca himself held Cato the Younger, the Stoic warrior who battle Caesar at every turn in the senate, as his ideal version of a sage.
It is important that we hold these mentors, real or fictional, in our minds to help us conquer the obstacles we will inevitably face.
Asking ourselves at times questions like, ‘How would X respond to this situation?’ or ‘If X experienced this and handled it this way, how can I handle this?’ help us to prevent the situation from quickly getting out of hand. By remembering that there are ways to cope with a situation, we help to take the power back and control our reaction, and lives, in a more fulfilling and practical way.
At the same time, this person helps to ground us in reality. If left to our own devices, we can quickly slip into vice without realizing it and can allow that to be come a norm, as Seneca references with his final sentiment on solitude.
Find a mentor, or choose one through history, and when confronted with a situation, ask yourself, ‘What would this person do in this same scenario?’