On my Fetlife timeline today there was a post by a woman asking for help with a troublesome new partner of her ex.
Most of the responses were helpful and empathic, but one person insisted that the only problem she had was in her mind and that she should simply seek therapy to learn to better deal with her emotions.
This echoes two of the core principles of Stoicism:
- “We can only control our own actions, not those of others.”
- “It is not the thing itself that hurts you, but only your reactions to it.”
On the surface these are solid principles, and are often also part of therapy. The idea is to promote acceptance, serenity and humbleness. To be aware of how limited your sphere of influence is and that often it’s better to accept the things you cannot change than to waste your energy in futile rage.
Unfortunately I’ve often seen Stoicism used more as a tool of victim-blaming and as an excuse not to show empathy to those in pain or need. It’s also all to simple to read these tenets as “Suck it up” or “If this bothers you, that’s your problem.”
I read some interesting articles about the rise of Stoicism that make the point better than I can, so I’ll share them below.
Some points I’d like to make though: as a philosophy Stoicism has a lot to offer. Reading the thoughts of people that lived literally millennia yet struggled with much of the same problems we do today really drives home that the human condition doesn’t really change no matter what technology does.
Also realise though that Stoicism really thrived in the Roman empire, one of the most patriarchal societies in recent history. There is absolutely a lot of value there, but realise that though the human condition doesn’t change, societies do. Our values now are different, and while this doesn’t lessen the value of ancient philosophy, it certainly requires a critical reading of what it says.
These two articles are worth reading: