Friday, April 08, 2022

Embody It

 Perceptive and long time readers of this blog will know that in point of fact I often tend to incorporate different aspects of whomever and whatever I tend to be reading at the moment - in that sense I am somewhat of a chameleon, adapting as I come into contact with new ideas.  Some of that will dissipate of course as I move to something else, but it always seems as if something remains.

As I am paging through Epictetus and thus the philosophy of Stoicism, I am finding both a buttress to my faith (I would argue that Epictetus is as close or closer to "Christian" thought as Plato is perceived to be) as well as a different methodology and framework for expressing beliefs and philosophy through life.

Of the Stoics I have read - Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Annaeus Seneca, and now Epictetus  - one common theme I am finding is the living out of the Stoic philosophy.  Philosophy for them was not just an thought exercise, it was a life practice that was to be lived out daily.

As the world seemingly becomes more chaotic and unsettled and things start to fray - or perhaps simply that I am getting older - I am coming to appreciate how meaningful this sort of philosophy is.

We live in an age where many people say things, make pronouncements, decree actions and thoughts.  We also live in an age where not living by what one preaches is considered completely acceptable and not at all worthy of comment.  It has always been this way I suppose; it is only the modern world and the fact that we can both see the present and history so quickly thanks to technology that such things become so evident.

If we want to be different - if we want to stick out in a good way - we need to not tell people about what we believe - our philosophy, our religion, our way of life - we need to embody it.

The world has plenty of examples of those that speak of great themes and mighty actions.  The world is well short of people that actually live by it.

It is not just a thought exercise.  How many times have we heard of someone that we think would be like us in thought or belief and then we meet them or hear them and suddenly realize that they are not the sort of people that we would at all want to imitate?  And it does not just have to be in the actions and words, it can be in their demeanor and presentation as well.  

How often - we have all had it happen, I think - we have recommended a person or an author to someone based on their ideas or their philosophy only to be appalled when we hear of something that does not at all comport with who we are or what we believe?  It is not just embarrassment for the thing itself; it is an embarrassment for our friend or associate, who now has to walk through the issue of what they had heard or seen and how we likely could endorse such a thing - what does that say about us?

If we want to make the world a better place - a place that we claim, in some form or fashion, we want it to be, we need to not just talk about such things.  We need to be - "embody", as Epictetus would say - the beliefs and philosophies we espouse.  We have to live them out to make them credible.

I know the counterarguments.  "It is hard" - it has always been hard to live out beliefs, especially in a world that by default and nature tends to promote everyone being the same.  "Those that our our opponents have all the control" - most great movements that actually improve the world always start small, in the face of opposition.  Yet they have succeeded.  "Everyone else is inconsistent and gets away with it" - but this is exactly why we are where we are; everyone has become used to people not living what they profess.  Can we blame them if they believe it is the only way things are?  "Anger and rage are the only way to accomplish things in the current world" - anger and rage can indeed make great changes but they are fueled by something that cannot last or make lasting changes; they will all eventually collapse upon themselves.

As I have grown older - possible wiser? - the people that I find the most credible and the most admirable are those that live out their philosophies and beliefs on a daily basis.  It costs them all, sometimes in material goods, sometimes in reputation, sometimes in simply snide remarks by a world that does not understand and does not care.  These are the ones I want to be like, because they are not only living what they profess, they are demonstrating that such a thing is possible.

You cannot speak one way and live another or live in a way that belies everything that say you are for, and then somehow believe that people will want to adopt your way of thinking or philosophy.  It is incumbent on all of us who want reasoned, self-sufficient, thoughtful, independent, and polite society to not only desire it and believe such things, but to live them out in practice on a daily basis.

The only way to truly be that thing is to show the world that it works, in our beliefs and practices and actions and works.  We can be the most credible example of what we believe - or its biggest detractor.


  1. Way too many of those so-called "leaders" are in the camp of "do as I say" not do as I do. One face for the public and another different face for the private. So much of life comes down to.....treat others as you want to be treated, that's what kept me going for six decades. Course I worked for the feds so cue the Homer Simpson "D'oh!"

    1. On every side, Nylon12, on every side. The Golden Rule or the Golden Mean or however it is called still works remarkably well.

      The goal - or I should think it is the goal - is that if we really want to change the world, we first need to be in word and deed that which we really want to see. We want to demonstrate credibility. What is more off-putting than anything, at least for me, is to see someone whose ideas I agree with living in a way that is inconsistent with those ideas - yes, I get that we are all to some extent fallible and make mistakes (I more than most), but there should be an internal consistency to our inner and outer actions - or as Benjamin Franklin said, "Who you appear to be, be really" (and he had his own issues, of course).

      The other thought is that each day, we always get the chance to choose such a course again.

  2. I think a lot of this is due to idolism. If I eliminate all the politicians, television personalities, authors, etc. and just compare my experiences with those whom I know on a personal level and have been around them more than just a few times, I think I am rarely disappointed on how they are. They for the most part are how I think they are and live their lives accordingly. But those we have not met personally, especially those we tend to idolize, it is quite easy to create mental projections of their lives and be disappointed. For example, Will Smith's recent behavior shocked the world but I'm guessing his wife, kids and some close associates were not all that surprised.

    1. Ed, that is a fair point. I am seldom disappointed by those closest to me as I generally know them. And you are correct, I bet that were we to dig into any of those that are "idols", we would probably be disappointed.

      That said, I think there is also an element of people not having the expectation of being held to the standards they claim to profess or hold to. And the fact that as a culture, we seem to have pretty loose demands that people live up to what they profess to be.

  3. We are the adults in the room, we should act like it.

    1. That is precisely it, Just So. We need to set the standard and act responsibly. And we can only do it one "us" at a time.

    2. Wearing the Ring of Gyges and not using it for plunder and injustice would be thought of as idiocy. Better to just leave it off and make sure that we are seen for what we are, and live with the consequences. Nobody can show two faces and survive, their psyche will be cast asunder.

    3. Thank you for making me reacquaint myself with the Ring of Gyges.

      If we come to such a day a living as we really are on a large scale, there will be a great many surprised and shocked faces. The current paradigm exists because people are assumed to play along for the social contract. When all feel comfortable to express who they are, will the contract survive?


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