Responsible for Myself
While scrolling through Huffington Post, scanning for a title to catch my attention, I came to an abrupt stop at, “This Ancient Philosophy Is What We Desperately Need In Our Modern Lives.” Finally, something Aristotle would approve of! And it just so happens that the author of this article studied philosophy and English literature, two of my favorite things.
Today’s reading brought me to learn a little more about an ancient philosophy, Stoicism, which discusses the responsibility for oneself and accepting a lack of control over the actions of others. This concept alone is revolutionary. “Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions; the philosophy holds that becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand the universal reason.”
stoic (ˈstō-ik) noun 1. a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining; 2. a member of the ancient philosophical school of Stoicism.
There is one point from my reading that I would like to expound on: the idea that we have enormous freedom to choose our thoughts and reactions; that we can choose to exercise power over our thoughts and attitudes in even the most dire of situations.
Gregory David Roberts’ novel, Shantaram, is the story of a bank robber and drug addict who escapes from prison. It serves as a powerful illustration of Stoic philosophy. The novel’s protagonist, Lin, describes a life-changing epiphany he had while being tortured:
“It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured. I realized, somehow, through the screaming of my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them. It doesn’t sound like much, I know. But in the flinch and bite of the chain, when it’s all you’ve got, that freedom is an universe of possibility. And the choice you make between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.”
Marcus Aurelius – Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 who wrote the Stoic tome, “Meditations.”
Although Stoic doctrine was frowned upon years after it’s origin by Emperor Justinian I, who perceived its pagan beliefs to being at odds with the Christian faith, I would argue that the fundamental pillars embody the essence of Jesus. I think of all the accounts I have read of Jesus interacting with the crowds and his disciples — he always exhibited calm, unbiased strength and authority. Not to mention his ultimate display of self-control and fortitude when he went to the cross. He willingly endured pain and hardship, despite the mocking and torture.
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:3-11)
Or what about the Apostle Paul? He accepted the fate of his choices, willingly endured imprisonment, maintained a hopeful spirit, and eventually led his own prison guard to salvation. Paul, too, had countless reasons why he could have been overcome with destructive emotions.
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food in cold and exposure… If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (2 Corinthians 11:24-30)
In closing, the author of the article I discussed earlier goes on to say, “[Stoicism] is not a philosophy of blind optimism and rose-colored glasses — it’s one of rationality and acceptance; being honest with yourself and not expecting the world or other people to be anything other than what they are.”
What if we were a little more honest with ourselves? Would it affect the expectations we have for those around us? Honesty leads to humility. Humility leads to grace.
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (Philippians 4:12)