A long time ago there was a great, advanced civilization. It was fairly similar to ours. It had politics, social structure, people with dreams and desires who could work and pursue life fulfillment. They had running water (which is amazing if you think about it) and bathrooms. They had the finest art and the most spectacular of sporting events. They were able to build things that to this very day engineers still look upon in awe.
The people lived in a generally free society, some would say a utopia, where they didn’t have to worry about starving to death, or being murdered by a band of savage barbarians on the way to the grocery store. Religions weren’t yet cultish, and cults weren’t yet religious, you could believe in many gods or goddesses to your hearts desire, whatever made sense to you and gave meaning. They could indulge on the most beautiful of paintings and the most delicious feasts. You could hold many occupations like today; a doctor, a merchant, a goat farmer. So many choices. All the pleasures of life built within the society, within the city, a byproduct of the culture and the advancement of human-kind.
They had so many things that we have today. So many things we take for granted that hundreds of thousands of people before us fought and died for, or even only dreamt of. They eventually become jaded, almost blind entirely. Too focused on status, too focused on material, too focused on what they didn’t have versus what they had now that made everything possible in the first place. They lost their strength, and soon enough those savage barbarians showed up at the gates and brought on the end of an entire empire.
That empire was the Roman empire.
It’s been roughly two thousand years since humanity has lived in a society that resembles that of the Romans and the Greeks. From these advanced societies came a deep period of inward thought; of true philosophy and of “from the Latin word meaning…”
Within the society of the Romans and Greeks they had schools. Many schools. Universities. Fraternities, various trades and occupations and lifestyles. But there were a few men who watched as the common folk was swallowed up by non-sense; living too lavishly, living with envy and greed and ultimately becoming unhappy and shallow versions of their former selves.
These men were the philosophers
Although there are many other philosophies worth noting, from the works of Aristotle and Plato, or even Neitzche and Sigmund Freud and many more, I’m going to focus on stoicism.
The stoics were a “no bull shit” kinda group, and deeply understood that life is about pain and pleasure, and the acceptance of nature just as it is. They focused on reason and logic. Most people, including myself, adore the writings and actions of Marcus Aurelius. He was a Roman general on the war front when he wrote “Meditations.” Then he become emperor of Rome. But there is also Epictetus and Seneca and a couple more that came long before Marcus Aurelius.
So why is this so important in today’s culture? Most would be unable to tell the differences in today’s society compared to that of the ancient Romans if you just wrote in on paper. Obviously they didn’t have smart phones and weren’t posting selfies and following each other on Instagram or Twitter. But they had many things we have today on a fundamental level. A level a freedom and advancement we have now, a market, universities, networks of people sharing ideas. Even in the medieval era, the environment was so chaotic that most people were forced into a bracket of society and just had to live that way for the rest of their life unless some other country came by and totally wiped them off the map, all the while using primitive farming tools just to scrap up enough potatoes to last the winter.
We live in a world today where MENTALITY is key to thriving and growing, and having the right operating system in your head is massively important. And that’s what philosophy is – an operating system for life. A way of reacting when life kicks you around, morals to remind yourself of. A deeper understanding of self and purpose. A way to make sense of the world around you in a way that is pre-tested.
Everyone tells themselves stories. It’s how we operate on a psychological level. You can get a deeper understanding of this if you read Riveted by Jim Davies, or even All Marketers Tell Stories by Seth Godin (the latter being a fun and short read.) But what helps separate the bogus narratives from the ones that actually help you is the right philosophy.
People in all walks of life carry a philosophy with them, even if you don’t think you have one, you have one, it’s the things you tell yourself every day. That’s your philosophy. Everyone from pro athletes and CEO’s to billionaire entrepreneurs and full-time hustlers, to mothers raising their kids and soldiers on the war front; they all have adopted some form of philosophy, and if you read enough you will learn that most of them resort to Stoicism or something that holds identical principles.
One thing you have to ask yourself is how did all these historic figures, or even living icons, get through the adversity, the struggles, the hardships, the life threatening environments without snapping under pressure? How did they keep a cool head? How did they not give up when everything around them was burning to the ground? When every camera and eye-ball was looking at them, waiting for them to slip up…
One of the most admirable traits of Marcus Aurelius was his dedication to reason. When he was on the battlefields fending off hoards of barbarians or fighting to take new lands for his nation, he kept the same principles in mind. And then, when he become emperor, he did not abuse his power like many of those who came before and after him. He remained true to himself. And he remained humble. In his own words, the fruit of this life is a good character and acts for the common good. He avoided the “imperial stain.” He didn’t write meditations for anyone to read. He wrote it for himself as a constant reminder of how he should act and the principles he holds true. And this is how we should all learn, with repetition.
I see, every day, people struggling with simple aspects of life. Getting angry at things they cannot control. Doing their jobs with a sense of resentment. Seeking only the pleasures in life, the next high. Looking for validation around every turn, boasting about their abilities or bragging about the works of other people as if it were their own, forgetting what virtues it actually takes to become great.
As Seneca once said – “Of all people only those are at leisure who make time for philosophy, only they truly live. Not satisfied to merely keep good watch over their own days, they annex every age to their own. All the harvest of the past is added to their store. Only an ingrate would fail to see that these great architects of venerable thoughts were born for us and have designed a way of life for us.”
And how true it is…
Reading is obviously a great way to learn and to grow. There are many great books out there that you can read to better yourself, to shift your mind into a place of true reason. I read The Daily Stoic every day, honing my mind to make the teachings and principles a habit. The Obstacle is the Way and Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday are the two best choices if you’d like an easy introduction into Stoicism. That’s basically where I started. Seneca on the Shortness of Life and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius are also a must have for any stoic collection.
I hope this article serves you well.
…let us remember that we are always a work in progress, and remain forever a student.