Feeling Stoic

How an ancient philosophy can change your life – if you feel like it…

Recently I wanted to use the word “stoic” and looked up its definition to make sure I was using it correctly. And here that definition is:

1. A person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining.

Which is pretty much what I thought, but then definition 1 led to definition 2:

2. A member of the ancient philosophical school of Stoicism.

Definition 2 led to an article called “9 Stoic Exercises To Get You Started” which I clicked on and read which is what you do when you no longer have a place of employment or a time clock to punch. Here’s part of what the article said:

“Stoicism has just a few central teachings. It sets out to remind us of how unpredictable the world can be. How brief our moment of life is. How to be steadfast, and strong, and in control of yourself. And finally, that the source of our dissatisfaction lies in our impulsive dependency on our reflexive senses rather than logic.”

Hmmm, that last part sounds like a certain political cartoonist I know…tell me more.

“Stoicism doesn’t concern itself with complicated theories about the world, but with helping us overcome destructive emotions and act on what can be acted upon. It’s built for action, not endless debate.”

Having spent several decades attending editorial board meetings, I can tell you with 100 percent certainty the Stoic philosophy has not caught on with that crowd – endless debate was part of our job description. A philosophy that says if you can’t do anything about it, stop talking about it, sounded right up my alley.

So I kept reading and ran across this:

“George Washington was introduced to Stoicism by his neighbors at age seventeen, and afterwards, put on a play about Cato to inspire his men in that dark winter at Valley Forge.”

Gotta say this sounds like one of the worst management ideas ever. You’re freezing your ass off and George decides a play about Cato (and not even the cool one who hung out with the Green Hornet) would cheer you up – almost as bad as alcohol-free Christmas Parties.

But how about those nine exercises?

1. Practice Misfortune.

Here’s what the article had to say about that. Don’t just think about misfortune live it: every once in a while wear your worst clothes, don’t eat or drink much and get away from the comforts of home.

Now here’s what I have to say about that: what’s Exercise Number 2 because I ain’t doing Exercise 1.

2. Train Perception to Avoid Good and Bad

Stoics do a thing called Turning the Obstacle Upside Down, which basically means in every bad there’s a good and it’s up to you to find it. For instance: The internet may have destroyed newspapers and the lives and careers of the people who worked for them, but is now providing high-quality porn that we used to have to go into dingy movie theatres to see – think positive people!   

“Choose not be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been.

That quote is from Marcus Aurelius who was either Roman emperor from 161 to 180 or is currently a rapper living in LA. I think my son Paul has worked with him.

3. Remember—It’s All Ephemeral

“Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both.” -Marcus Aurelius

Well, thanks, Marcus. For half a nanosecond I forgot I was going to die: I appreciate the reminder. Get invited to parties much?

4. Take The View From Above

Step back and remind yourself – in the grand scheme of things – just how small you are. And if you have a hard time remembering this, get married and there’s a good chance your spouse will be happy to remind you.

5. Meditate On Your Mortality

Got it; we’re all going to die. Do you have to keep bringing it up? I thought we covered this with exercise 3. Plus, I thought if we couldn’t do anything about it we were supposed to stop thinking about. Maybe there should be an exercise called, “Make Up Your Damn Mind.”

6. Is This Within My Control

“The single most important practice in Stoic philosophy is differentiating between what we can change and what we can’t. What we have influence over and what we do not.” 

OK, now we’re getting somewhere. If an ancient philosophy can rid the world of sports-talk radio, I’m in. I don’t know about you, but I’m also worn out with those sports talk TV shows where two guys vehemently disagree while a failed Playboy pinup sits in-between and says: “Boys, boys, boys.”

(Unless I get offered one of those shows; then I’m all in.)

Endlessly talking about shit we can’t do anything about takes up a huge amount of our time and if we stop doing that we’d have more time for the things that really matter.

I can highly recommend day-drinking.

7. Journal

Way ahead of you on this one.

8. Practice Negative Visualization

After all the happy horsehit about visualizing good things which will then make those things happen, I gotta say I loved this one. A very brief internet search unearthed this gem about Oprah Winfrey’s philosophy:

“Receive what you want by becoming a vibrational match for it.”

Well, apparently I’m a “vibrational match” for cheap whisky and watching more baseball than any human should.

While I’d like to believe I can bend the universe to my will – and if I was Oprah Winfrey I might believe that bullshit, too – life has taught me to take the Stoic approach: think about the stuff that can go wrong and you’ll be ready when it does.

True story:

So many of my fellow political cartoonists had been fired that I knew it would happen to me sooner or later, so I spent some time thinking about what I would do when it did.

The first time I got fired, before the words were all the way out of the editor’s mouth, I asked: “Do you want a freelance relationship?” and he said yes. One thing led to another and that led to another decade of employment.

The second time I got fired, I said: “Don’t you think everybody in this company should get fired once before I get fired twice?” and that led to me having a lot more free time drink cheap whiskey and watch baseball. See what being prepared can do for you?

BTW: “Laid off” is a bullshit term used to make the people who do it to you feel better.

After I referred to getting “fired” a Kansas City Star executive corrected me and said I wasn’t fired, I was “laid off.” I said when they don’t want you around anymore and quit paying you, it really feels like you’ve been fired.

Hard to believe a guy who knows how to deal with management as well as I do could get laid off twice, isn’t it?

9. Love everything that happens

“Treating each and every moment—no matter how challenging—as something to be embraced, not avoided. To not only be okay with it, but love it and be better for it.” 

Yeah, I’m going to come right out and call bullshit on this one. If I dive head first into a shallow swimming pool and become a quadriplegic I can pretty much guarantee you I won’t be sitting in my wheelchair thinking:

“But now I have so much free time to learn a foreign language!”

So while some of this ancient philosophy speaks to me, other parts seem like crap…but I’m going to be stoic about it.

OK, that’s it. Enjoy your day and remember: none of us have all that long to live.

“Death smiles at us all, but all a man can do is smile back.”

– Marcus (AKA Debbie Downer) Aurelius