If you’ve not heard of stoicism, chances are that a Stoic practice has saved your life, but is that me judging? I would argue, no, but I would say that because of my bias as the author. However, I may be providing you with a disservice. Here’s why.
The only thing that can save your life is you. You are a thing, and what is more spectacular is the fact that you are something. Although there could be a discussion to be made that you are someone, Stoicism teaches you how to be something.
How? Let’s start by looking at the four cardinal virtues of Stoicism.
The Stoic rule to live a fulfilled life — Control what you can control, which means you get to control how you respond to things, which correspond to the 4 virtues. My ambition with this piece of writing is for the “control” thought to become a brain tattoo.
The ultimate Stoic belief? To be of service.
Now, I have another judgement. I’m confident that a person who has never been of service does not exist. So, by that account alone (which includes my bias), you that are reading this is a being of service, which means you’re a Stoic. The end.
Well, no. It can’t be the end because that would be finite, and when you’re talking about a way of life, then as long as there's life (which is a paradox because life is not finite but stay with me here), it’s infinite.
It’s infinite because service belongs to the soul and the soul is everlasting.
So, what is the entry price to be of service? To be a good human.
From my lens, the Stoics were saying, all you have to do to live a fulfilled life is to be a good human. Well, I’d like to know two things if that were true.
- What does service really mean?
- Were the Stoics of service?
As I searched, I went into “uncomfortable weird” pretty quick. Following a timeline that took me through 19th century middle English, 8th to 14th century French, 9th, 6th and 3rd century Latin to where I believe it started Proto-Indo-European, abbreviated as PIE, which is hypothesized to have been spoken as a single language from 4500 BC to 2500 BC.
What was “uncomfortable weird?” Well, the PIE definition was Ser-wo-s, which meant “guardian”. This was from the word Ser, which stood for “watch over, protect”. That’s quite romantic and wholesome, but it changed to the Latin spelling Servitium, which stood for slave.
I then asked myself, “does that have to be uncomfortable”. Well, what do I write for? I write to explore life, and with any kind exploration, you’re going to dig into some shit, so if there’s a chance, I’ve offended anyone that finds my findings distasteful or “shocking”, then I apologise, and in fairness, I’d like to give you three choices (well, the third is not really a choice).
- Stop reading and thank you for your valuable time.
- Keep reading because words work, and as a thought experiment, if we were to back out of every opportunity to learn, just because it gets a little uncomfortable, then we won’t progress. Do you agree?
- I hope you progress.
Slavery was abolished at various times in different countries, and because I’m writing this in the UK, it abolished the slave trade in the British empire in 1808, but it wasn't until 1838 until slaves were totally freed in the colonies.
Am I saying “to be of service” is to be a slave? No, but there's no denying slavery was serving.
Now to answer, “were the stoics of service.”
The more I read about the Stoics, the one I gravitate to than any other stoic is Epictetus. He was a badass. He was a Greek philosopher who was born into slavery. His name was given to him by his parents as Ἐπίκτητος, Epíktētos which meant “Gained” or “Acquired”. He was the “Acquired one”. How cool?
He had a master for the first 30 years of his life, who, to me, sounded like he had some serious mental health issues. On the one hand, he allowed Epictetus to read his philosophy books so he could learn about life and gain wisdom, and on the other, broke his leg just because he could. Epictetus spent his entire life after that having to walk with a cane because of the permanent limp.
After he was released from slavery, he started teaching philosophy to students in Rome until around 98 AD, where the Roman emperor (at that time), Domitian, banned all philosophers from Rome. So, Epictetus carried on his teachings in Greece. He moved to Nicopolis in Epirus, Greece, where he founded a school of philosophy.
The stoics practiced the dichotomy of control, which stripped down to its core, states to be aware of what is and isn’t in our control. Epictetus never left us any writing, but his students transcribed and left a lot of his work to us, and one of the coolest quotes that Epictetus left us with, regarding the dichotomy of control, was this bad boy —
“Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.”
The quote above has all the 4 Stoic virtues embodied in it, and if you look closely, it should start to make sense of how Stoicism may have saved your life.
If I gave you a Million pounds with only one condition, would you take it? It depends on the condition, right?
If I gave you 10 billion pounds with only one condition, would you take it? Again, it depends on the condition, right?
The condition is you can’t wake up again.
Would you take the money?
As I said in the beginning, people that read this will be those that are of service, and the same people are those that want to help others without the cost of life.
You now know you’re not here because of money. You’re not here for things that are not in your control. What made you decide to stay here and not take the money? Your mind.
The stoics teach us the fundamental basic stuff, that no one can take away your mind.
Use your mind wisely and continue being of service, because it has awarded you the greatest gift with no price tag. Life.
Choose life, be something, and go continue being the good human you are.