“If a person gave away your body to some passerby, you’d be furious. Yet you hand over your mind to anyone who comes along, so they may abuse you, leaving it disturbed and troubled — have you no shame in that?”
It’s easy to let someones actions or opinions get to you. It happens to me every day, try as I might. And while it’s impossible to float through life without getting annoyed or letting someone under your skin, your reaction is completely under your control. As a rule in business and in life, the more you show your hand, the less power your have in a situation. This is especially true for people actively trying to gain the upper hand on you. Law 3 in the book, The 48 Laws of Power, details how you can overcome an enemy or opponent trying to get you to show your hand. Robert Greene goes on to write, “Always keep your intentions obscured. This way, your opponents cannot defend themselves. Lead them astray, and by the time they realize your plans, it will be too late.” You should always strive to be good-willed and forthcoming, but never underestimate the lengths people will go to see you fall to the bottom. Use tools like Robert Greene’s book and others to prepare yourself for the dog-eat-dog world we live in and never, let someone else control your actions.
“Is the oil spilled? Is a little wine stolen? Say on the occasion, at such price is sold freedom from being upset; at such price is sold tranquillity, but nothing is got for nothing.”
The ability to confront adversity can be a great tool, especially if we anticipate surprising events. No one likes to be caught off guard by misfortune. Preparing for the worst case scenario can help us deal with events that pop up along the way. A lot of the great stoics, and philosophers for that matter, spent a lot of time playing through scenarios to be able to respond optimally when the time called for it. It seems like little has actually changed in human nature since early Stoa, as much as we like to think we’ve advanced as mankind. We can all benefit from exercising forethought. If things go better than expected, great. If they go worse? Then you’re prepared.
“Better to trip with the feet than with the tongue.”
Zeno of Citium
“By silence, I hear other men’s imperfections and conceal my own.”
Zeno of Citium
“We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we talk.”
Zeno of Citium
“No one entrusts a secret to a drunken man; but one will entrust a secret to a good man; therefore, the good man will not get drunk.”
Learning to accept and embrace silence can be difficult. Filling gaps of silence in conversations or meetings may seem necessary but it rarely is. One thing I’ve learned in the business world is that people use silence to their advantage. Everyone knows these situations are awkward and some take advantage of it to get you to spill the beans on some project or mention a weakness or flaw in something. Whatever it may be, there isn’t a need. Embrace the silence. Use it to your advantage instead. Some things are better left unsaid.
“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.”
“Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.”
“Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future too.”
“The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.”
Humility and compassion are a few practices that don’t often get associated with Stoicism. I assumed Stoicism was more or less compassion-free and disregarding the need to connect with others. But after a bit of digging, my ignorance couldn’t be further from the truth. One of if not the most famous Stoics, Marcus Aurelius, has so much on these topics in his writings. Even the underlying principles of interconnectedness that define Stoicism point to the need for humility and compassion constantly.
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Be something bigger than yourself,” or something similar, and that is one of the principles Stoics want to aim for when thinking of the Universe as a single entity. Fragmentation can’t be good because it divides what is meant to be whole. We know exactly what it means to do good and to be a good person. We feel a twinge of discomfort when we go against what we ought to be doing for a reason — We know better.
“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be One.” – Marcus Aurelius
“It’s ruinous for the soul to be anxious about the future and miserable in advance of misery, engulfed by anxiety that the things it desires might remain it’s own until the very end. For such a soul will never be at rest— by longing for things to come it will lose the ability to enjoy present things.”
Seneca the Younger
Something you probably hear all the time is to, “Live in the present.” Apart of Epectetus, Seneca has some really great concepts on this philosophy. Someone new should start with his collection of writings called, Letters from a Stoic. He has a lot of interesting perspectives on the shortness of life, warning us not to waste time should we only regret it.
The amount of distractions make it almost impossible for us to not waste our time, whether it be avoiding responsibilities or focusing on things outside of our control. We also have a tendency to focus our valuable time on things that aren’t good for our purpose in life. Spend time with your family and friends. Spend time working on yourself, but not on things that won’t help you grow. The better you are, the better those around you will be.
This is something that gets lost in today’s world where short-term pleasure is glorified. Think about all the things that make you impatient or test your will that seem trivial. We’ve been conditioned in a very short amount of time to be annoyed when something doesn’t happen fast enough. I am as guilty for this as anyone else but take some time and reflect on what is really happening. You are letting an outside source control your emotions and your ability to think or rationalize , both of which are better for your soul than short-term emotional distress. Control your own destiny.