THE STOIC – Marcus Aurelius (April 26, 121 – March 17, 180) was a Roman emperor from 161 to 180 and a Stoic philosopher. He was the last of the rulers known as the Five Good Emperors, and the last emperor of the Pax Romana, an age of relative peace and stability for the Roman Empire lasting from 27 BC to 180 AD. Stoicism taught him to control his emotions and maintain a calm and rational mindset in the face of adversity, inspiring others to do the same.
Stoics practice the cardinal virtues and live in accordance with nature. The postulate to ‘live and let live‘ is a fair characterization of Stoic’s sentiments regarding the meaning of life. There is no compelling will to direct people, as there is for monotheistic people of faith or was for Schopenhauer, a will to which humans better submit or possibly rebel against.
Of Human Freedom
Epictetus, a former Greek slave (c. 55-135 C.E.) and one of the philosophers of the Stoa, shares a profound conviction that we can manage our emotions by regulating our thoughts.
Epictetus expounds his Stoic wisdom through his essay, “Of Human Freedom,” which presents an eloquent and concise introduction to the Stoic school of thought. In this work, he delves into topics such as “What lies within our power and what does not,” “How we can maintain our character in any given situation,” “The concept of satisfaction,” and “How to confront adversity.” He reminds us that every circumstance represents an opportunity.
Epictetus asserts that all suffering is purely a construct of the mind, stemming from our distorted beliefs and unreasonable expectations, rather than from external factors. Since most external events are beyond our control, he believed that fretting over them is an exercise in futility. However, our assessment of these events lies entirely within our power. Therefore, we should not assign undue significance to any external circumstance. Instead, we should focus our mental energies on self-control.
Epictetus advocated for the constant and rational appraisal of our thoughts and feelings, as well as reasoning ourselves out of upsetting emotional states. He proposed the notion of installing a mental fact-checker, whose role is to maintain equilibrium and composure. This idea is the precursor to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a popular form of psychotherapy today.
The more we value things outside our control, the less control we have. Therefore, freedom is attained not by indulging our desires, but by extinguishing them. As Epictetus puts it, “Freedom is not achieved by satisfying desire but by eliminating it” (Epictetus, 2010, p. 81). Life is fraught with challenges; misfortunes are inevitable. Yet, we can harness these negative experiences to test our resilience and strengthen our fortitude. “So when trouble comes, think of yourself as a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck. For what purpose? To turn you into Olympic-class material” (Epictetus, 2010, p. 14).
The ultimate goal of the Stoics is to gain mastery over ourselves. By doing so, we become impervious to the slings and arrows of fortune. Their ultimate pursuit is an inner freedom that allows us to exercise full autonomy over external events. The Stoics maintain that the development of a Stoic mindset is our most exalted purpose in life. The reward is inner peace.
In summary, living and letting live is a worthy way of life.