Throughout human history, problems have stemmed from scarcity — the problems of the modern world are caused by abundance. For decades humanity has been discovering new ways to connect and speed up life. Today we dream of moments of silence, without sound notification, unopened emails, and endless group chats.
It is therefore not surprising that more and more people are seeking peace from technology and form their own thoughts — and many of them find refuge in one of the great ancient schools of philosophy: Stoicism.
Stoicism originated in the 3rd century BC. Its founder is Zeno of Citium. The most popular and influential Stoic philosophers were practical thinkers. Epictetus was a slave, Seneca a lawyer, and Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor. From the bottom of society, across the middle, all the way to the top, these three ancient thinkers saw into the depths of the wisdom of living. Epictetus didn’t write. He talked to people who were zealous in their efforts to understand life. So one of his students wrote down his words. Unlike Epictetus, Seneca wrote notebooks. Yet much of his wisest thoughts are contained in personal letters and short essays he has compiled for instruction and inspiration to his friends. Marcus Aurelius had a notebook with thoughts for his personal use. None of these great minds have written books for self-help or personal growth, but from what they have written or said, from their very different but yet similar life experiences, we can get an excellent insight into their vision of a sublime and creative life, and apply it today.
The Basic Stoic Values
At the very core of this school lies the belief that man should live in harmony with nature, that the world functions on the principles of logic, (monistic) physics, and (naturalistic) ethics, and that happiness requires renunciation from endless urges and desires for pleasure as well as fear. In short, you’ll be happy and peaceful if you live in the moment, if you are aware of the passage of time, do not spend it on caring for things that have not yet happened, and live following the highest good — virtue. The basic (stoic) virtues are reasonableness, moderation, courage, and justice.
Although the term “stoic” is colloquially used today for people who manage to remain calm in the face of stress challenges, provocation, and other external factors, stoicism offers much more practical advice.
Stoicism differs from other philosophical schools in its focus on the reality of human life, including politics. Not so much a school of thought as a self-management training program, stoicism prepares us to always act and react most appropriately. Stoic teaching especially emphasizes control over emotions to maintain composure and balance, and the real test of this doctrine are extreme situations and temptations.
The Development of Modern Stoicism
Modern Stoicism (different from the philosophical direction of neo-Stoicism from the 16th century) developed, in various forms, in the 20th century through a renewed interest in the ancient school of thought. One of the basic differences to classical Stoicism concerns the imperative of living in nature, which is harder to perform today, so modern Stoicism tries to reconcile ancient ideas with the reality of the modern world.
Modern stoicism has been attracting more media and public attention since 2010 when the first major organized events began.
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