Okay, so, I've recently subscribed to the Daily Stoic mailing list. During the week, an email with parts of the book is (nominally) sent out to subscribers. I have the book, and have been reading it, often not just the day's entry, but forward and backward in different lengths of forward and backward. I am appreciating the balance I'm starting to find with the daily reminders.
The only part I'm not so thrilled with is that I can't find the archives of the mailing list. I suspect only a fraction of the book is sent out, as the emails don't match the entries in the book, and that at some point that "only part" will become "two parts" with the second one being the list repeats itself. Or maybe not, if I embrace the reminders.
Anyway, here are a couple of the recent ones that I haven't archived from my inbox yet.
Someone says something about you and you get rattled for the day. Your son or daughter lashes out at you—and your week is thrown off. You overhear someone saying something about your appearance—and it gets to you. Your boss lays into you—and now you’re anxious and insecure. All of us—every single one of us—have experienced this. No one is immune to the judgments of others.
And yet: Why do we put so much stock in what others say? Marcus has a clever observation: “We all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.” It’s true isn’t it? We’re generally selfish people but the one thing we value more than ourselves is other people’s opinion about us. And this ridiculous contradiction causes us so much misery.
One of stoicism’s fundamental principles is that we all have a “citadel of the self”: a fortress that we’re constantly building and strengthening. That fortress can only be breached by us, when we let an opinion or a thought go past the walls. Whether that happens—whether we give ourselves over to someone else’s judgment, opinion, slur, thought, action—is a choice.
Nothing outside of your own thoughts can affect you—if you choose. No one’s opinion of you can shake you—if you don’t allow yourself to be affected by it.
Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor, observed three universal facts about human existence. They are not immediately uplifting, so please close this email if you were expecting light and fluffy inspiration. He said, “There is no human being who may say that he has not failed, that he does not suffer, and that he will not die.”
It is this “Tragic Triad” that defines every one of our lives, does it not? That might seem like reason for despair. Suffering, failure and death.
The Stoics say that it is not. These are simply objective truths—it’s our perceptions that look at them and say: “It’s unfair.” “It’s sad.” “I must try to escape it.”
Instead of judging this reality, we should say instead, “Ok, if that’s how it is, I will try to make the most of my lot.” If we do this, we will find—though certainly not easily—that it is from failure, struggle and death that meaning is produced. It’s death that gives life urgency. It’s failure that teaches us lessons. It’s suffering that shows us who we are.
Don’t run from these three facts. Don’t label them tragic. Face them.
People have strong opinions about what is good and bad, positive or negative in life. Yet if you ask most of them what they’re working towards, what their grand strategy for life actually is—what philosophy they’re guided by—most can’t answer.
This is a contradiction. If you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish or what’s important to you—today or in life as a whole—you have no idea whether an event is truly good or bad. As Seneca wrote, “If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable.”
Let this email serve as a reminder. Without a clear plan, without a point or purpose to aim for, all your thoughts on good news and bad news, advantages and disadvantages are just pointless speculation.
You have to know what you’re trying to do today—and every day. You have to know what port you’re aiming for. Otherwise, you’re just being blown around. You’re just reacting. And you’ll never end up where you want to be.
Daniele Bolelli is a man of many talents. He is a successful author, a university professor, a professional martial artist and a podcast host (and a philosopher and a father and a historian). You may know him from his cult classic, On the Warrior’s Path, a philosophical exploration of the martial arts or because of his podcasts, The Drunken Taoist and History on Fire. Maybe you’ve even trained under Daniele who holds a fifth degree black belt in kung fu san soo-a style and fought professionally in mixed martial arts (MMA).
In one of his essays Daniele reminds us all “Victory or defeat are largely out of my control, but putting up a good fight… putting up the kind of fight that makes the earth shake and the gods blush… this I can do.”
“I don’t think too many human beings are naturally above caring about victory and defeat. It’s imprinted in us to care about the outcome of our actions. While this may be natural and normal, the problem is that we can never fully control the outcome. Usually, in life there are too many variables at play. So, no matter how mightily we strive or how intense our effort, odds are that at least some of the time we will come up short of our goals. And what makes things even more complicated is that the more attached you are to the outcome, the more tension and fear you will experience at the thought of possibly facing a crushing defeat—which reduces our effectiveness, since part of our energy is trapped in the jaws of fear.
Paradoxically enough, the more you focus on giving your all rather than outcome, the less fear will hold you prisoner. And the less fear holds you prisoner, the higher the odds that you will perform at your peak potential and actually get the outcome you desire. I am fascinated with this idea because it offers a concrete tool to better ourselves. I struggle with this all the time because–like most people–I care deeply about outcomes. So, for me this is an ongoing practice.”