Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Have I Gotten Better (II)?

Thanks to all for all of the good thoughts yesterday.  Yes, to be fair, it was a little bit of a reaction on my part.  At the same time, it also provoked a much needed mental reconsideration of where I am in my life, and where I would like to be.

Fortunately, in my moment of consideration, I had a book within reach (I know, what a shock):  

The Practicing Stoic by Ward Farnham a systemic introduction to Stoic philosophy - so far, outside of reading the Stoics themselves.  Lay out their philosophy and underlying thinking, chapter by chapter it addresses major Stoic areas of consideration - Valuation, Desire, Wealth, Pleasure - and then lists out what the Stoics thought on each.

I am not finished completely with the book yet, but one place that it did send me was in the consideration of being a better person, as was discussed a bit yesterday.

What does "better" mean?   A sliding scale of course, measured however you would like to.  For myself, at least, I need to focus on if I am a better person. 

How do I measure better in that case?  Am I:

- Less desirous of things or more?

- Less content or more content?

- Less dismayed by events around me or more?

- Less concerned about the future or more?

- Less willing to focus on the hard work of living quietly or more?

- Less concerned about God or more (Stoics tended to say a God existed, just not the Judeo-Christian one.  Epictetus was especially angry against Christians)?

Obviously in general, one wants to be both more and less:  More content, more willing to focus on quiet living, more concerned about God and also less desirous of things, less dismayed by events, less concerned about the future.   Add to this the usual set of mores as well:  More kind, more generous, more gracious, more honorable, more thoughtful, more learned. more caring.

I understand that in one sense this all becomes a very internalized measurement of my own making with (in some cases) ill defined metrics.  At the same time, this is the sort of thing that strikes me as precisely the most important thing right now.

To echo what was the inherent comment in some of the comments yesterday, we do not need people doing more, we need people being all of the "more" listed above.

I - we - likely cannot change the world this way.  But at least we can be the bright lights in it.


  1. Paul once known as Saul the destroyer of Christians wrote most of his writing from a Roman prison.

    Philippians 1: 20I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have complete boldness so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22But if I go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. So what shall I choose? I do not know.…

    Philippians 4: 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

    I'm not into the Stoics myself. But then again, I find Heinlein useful. And sadly enough he seems angry at christians (I used lower case for a reason).

    My modified version of the rule of threes includes 3 months without faith your doomed as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said often enough in the Gulag Archipelago.

    1. Heinlein did seem angry at them, which is shame (at least for me, as I otherwise enjoy him very much).

      Stoicism is a useful philosophy for me, if for no other reason than it encourages self reflection on how to be better.

  2. Nylon127:41 AM

    Treat others the way you'd like to be treated. And I don't mean trick or treat treats.

  3. Anonymous9:21 AM

    Interesting subject. I've seen some stoic references recently. Maybe that is something to look into. After all the other subjects I'm working are exhausted.

    There is a uniqueness about a person that takes in information (like the Link post) and then applies it to themselves. Applies it to better themselves.

    1. I have found them very useful. The book above seems like a very good introduction (I say that as someone that already knew a bit). Another very good introduction would either be Marcus Aurelius' Meditations or Epictetus' Enchiridion (The Handbook). Meditations is a bit longer but develops things a bit more fully; The Enchiridion is a 50-60 item series of short thoughts and meditations that encompass the Stoic philosophy.

  4. I'm not sure I have a full grasp on what stoicism is but according to a 15 question quiz I found only, I am a stoic.

    1. Ed, one of the things the author of the above book makes (as do others) is that Stoicism has received a bad rep in the modern world. Modernly, the word stoic means "without emotion; silent in the face of suffering or tragedy". While the Stoics tried to meet the world and its suffering with a form of detachment or equanimity, they were anything but emotionless. It is a shame; they really have a lot to offer this age. For many years, it was felt to be quite compatible with Christianity.

  5. Striving to be a bright light in this world is a great objective! I read your post yesterday too. I think the questions you posed today are good ones that all of us should ask ourselves if we're not content. Checking in with ourselves once in a while is a good thing because the worst thing that can happen is end of life regret...If I compared myself to my former colleagues/friends...I wouldn't be anywhere near where they are but in my own life, I've come so far and I'm very content! I hope you reach that level of contentment TB!

    1. Rain, one of the items the Stoics recommend very regularly is taken stock of ourselves, our desires, and our emotions and seeing if we are mastering ourselves or we are being mastered by other things (such as emotions or desire).

      They spend a great deal of time speaking of contentment in one's life, although they were all able to live that to a greater or lesser extent (Seneca, for example, often writes of taking living the simple life with little material desires but was famously known for the amount of his wealth for most of his years of public life).

      Contentment - I hope so as well, Rain. I still have a long way to go.

  6. I'm pretty sure Thomas Jefferson would be thought of as a "Gotten better" man. One of his more common sayings came from Cicero.

    “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”

    ― Cicero

    Good enough for the two most admired men, good enough for me.

    Have you ever visited Monticello's gardens? Seen his concrete fish holding pond for a fresh dinner?

    1. Michael, Cicero (at least by the author of the book above) was considered something of a fellow traveler for the Stoics but never a Stoic fully. He wrote on many of their ideals but was not a true believer.

      I have not been to Monticello. It is on the list, but who knows given the present world if I will ever get there.

  7. Also of note, don't pay too much for things of little value. Your time is all you have. How do you spend it?

    1. Another fine Stoic concept John - in terms of my life, are my possessions worth what I gave for them?

    2. Thanks to yesterday, I have a whole new way to evaluate them.


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