Understanding Stoicism


Stoicism is defined as the endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complaint.  To me and many others, stoicism can be seen as a way of life applied to all and every aspects of living.  The core of Stoicism is the very definition of acceptance and indifference.  Zeno of Citium, a Hellenistic philosopher, was the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy.  He along with Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca are the best known stoics.

In 300 BC in the city of Cyprus, there lived a very wealthy trader that went by the name Zeno.  While he was on a voyage from Phoenicia to Piraeus, his boat sank with all of his cargo on board.  This single event, that was entirely out of anyone’s control, made a very wealthy man become poor in an instant.  How would you react to this situation if you were Zeno?  Is anger or sadness the correct reaction?  Is feeling that life has cheated you the correct reaction?  These would all be seen as normal reactions.  Zeno, however, would have a different reaction.  Zeno constructed the idea that we do not have control what happens to us, but we do have control of how it affects us.  According to Zeno we must use this control to great effect.  Instead of growing sad or angry with his loss of goods, Zeno maintained his composure and stayed calm and neutral.

Your perspective of the world is everything.  We all have different perspectives on different things.  The general philosophy of Stoics was widely known since they taught in a public place.  They felt that their principles could benefit all people, so what sense would it make to hide it?  Anyone could become a Stoic, from slave to emperor.  Early Stoics practiced what they preached, avoiding all forms of segregation and inequality.  They invented the word, “cosmopolitan” which means “citizen of the world.”

In today’s time, Stoics are viewed as people who cannot be broken, people who do not linger to emotional extremes.  They do not experience fits of rage or deal with harsh anxiety.  The origin of the idea behind Stoicism was much more than that.  Stoicism was not just people who had no emotions, rather it was a way to view, describe, and understand the world.  For centuries, this way of life has lasted.  The philosophy of Stoicism can be applied to situations today, just as it was thousands of years ago.  The benefit of Stoicism is that of taking negative feelings and emotions and turning them into thoughts that can give you a unique perspective of the world.