Stoicism’s status is in the thoughts and ideas that it hands down through generations—many of which are slowly passing from memory, even though they are sorely needed in today’s world. It does not lose those ideas due to uselessness, but because of human forgetfulness and a variety of other challenges.
Most people these days think with more utilitarian ideas, or at least say they do—though we often use different reasonings internally. But this thought process is filled with problems. For one thing, it’s an incomplete way of thinking about life—it doesn’t provide an answer for why people should live a utilitarian lifestyle or give a guide for their general conduct. As people with this way of thinking seek answers, they only meet internal conflict. Additionally, it’s a terrible way to judge our worth, since it measures it using methods out of our control.
But, on the other side of the coin we have Stoicism, which is unique to other modern ways of thinking, because it is a complete system. A person can make utilitarian choices, but a person lives as a Stoic. It is an entire system to live life by. It also measures us only by things that are within our control. Utilitarianism can have its place, maybe as a guide for determining the justice of our actions, but it cannot compete with Stoicism in overall lifestyle, and when we choose not to use complete systems, we miss out on critical guidance.
There is a general human tendency to pass harsh judgements on others, and to go easy on ourselves. We tend to punish others before trying to see from their perspective. This way of thinking is extremely counter-productive. Punishment typically makes the situation worse and does very little to benefit the future. The lack of desire to understand others (generally seen in those who say they choose empathy) keeps us from finding unity with those around us.
Stoicism instructs us that we should not judge anyone else, since we can’t ever know what their true intentions are—and worth is measured through intent. But this doesn’t give permission for poor decisions and lawlessness: having sound judgment is a virtue). Instead, in our interactions, we shouldn’t try and punish or reward people, but look to find the middle ground and wish well for everyone. If a Stoic were to penalize a criminal, it is meant to instruct them in better actions; if they were to put them in prison, it is for the protection of the victims. A Stoic will not look for revenge. They instead strive for restoration, for the good of all instead of personal reward, for mutual understanding instead of judgement, and forward progress instead of hanging on top past transgressions.
It’s too often that we pursue our own pleasure without thought of anything else. Pleasure feels good, and anything else is uncomfortable, right? Then we run away from pain and only do things that feel good, without thought of consequences. These pleasures we pursue include consumerism, with continuous spending and no satisfaction, and avoiding exercise, which compounds over time and takes our health with it.
Even the doctrine Epicureanism, which considers pleasure to be the chief good, would find this lack of thought and care to be stupid, but Stoicism has a better solution. Stoicism asks us what is so good about pleasure, and so awful about pain? Is a life lived in pleasure the only one worth living? Is a life full of pain not? We might find the best life while pushing through suffering, and the worst life in the emptiness of pleasure. It is far more satisfying to defeat suffering than it is to languish in pleasure. Stoicism instructs us that this is the other way, and true value is found in excellence in nature—to be the best we can be. This idea is not unknown in today’s world, but it is consistently something we fail to put in to action, without really discovering its meaning or following in any serious way. Stoicism reminds us that to be a bad person is worse than any life of pain, and to be righteous and good is better than any life of pleasure.
- Stoicism teaches purpose; today, imprudence often prevails.
- Stoicism teaches moderation; today, a life of surplus often prevails.
- Stoicism teaches virtue; today, pleasure is valued above all else.
- Stoicism is complete; today, most such systems are incomplete.
- Stoicism teaches mutual understanding; today, judgement is the norm.
The Stoic is a cliff that is unaffected by the waves that crash against it, and the seas are stormier than ever.