This is a film about Stoicism and why you
need more of it in your life – because, as people seldom tell you, but we will, quietly… Stoicism was a philosophy that flourished
for 480 years in Ancient Greece and Rome, and was popular with everyone from slaves
to the aristocracy: because – unlike so much philosophy, it was helpful, helpful when we
panic, want to give up, despair and rage at existence. We still honour this philosophy whenever we
think of someone as brave and – without perhaps quite knowing why – call them ‘stoic’ There are two great philosophers of Stoicism.
The first is the Roman writer and tutor to Nero, Seneca. He lived between AD 4 and AD 65 That’s right, ‘tutor to Nero’. The infamous
dictator who slept with his own mother, raped young boys and, just because he felt like
it, asked his old tutor – Seneca – to commit suicide in front of his own family.
And our other guide to Stoicism is the kind and magnanimous Roman Emperor Marcus
Aurelius [AD 121 to 180], who was forced to spend most of his reign on the edges of the
Empire, fighting off invincible Germanic hordes, but found time to write one of the greatest
works of philosophy, the Meditations in his tent at night. There are two problems stoicism can help us
with in particular. The first is Anxiety. When you’re feeling anxious about something,
most people are maddening. They believe it is their duty to ‘cheer you up’. However intelligent
they might otherwise be, they say things like: IT’LL BE OK,
DON’T WORRY even CHEER UP The stoics were appalled. They hated any kind
of consolation that aims to give the listener HOPE. Hope is the opium of the emotions and must
be stamped out conclusively for a person to stand any chance of inner peace. Because hope only lifts one higher for the
eventual fall. The Stoics advised us to take a different
path. To be calm, one has to tell oneself something very dark:
It will be terrible! I might have to go to prison. The lump really could be malign. I probably will be fired and humiliated.
My friends almost certainly will succeed. BUT, a huge consoling Stoic BUT, one must
keep in mind that one will, nevertheless, be OK. OK because in the end, as Marcus Aurelius
said: ‘We are each of us stronger than we think’ Prison won’t be fun, nor will losing one’s job or being made a laughing stock… but
one will get through it. Stoicism emboldens us against the worst fate can throw at us. And if you really really can’t take it, suicide
is always an option. The Stoics mentioned this repeatedly. Here is Seneca:
‘Can you no longer see a road to freedom? It’s right in front of you. You need only
turn over your wrists’. To build up an impression of one’s own resilience,
the Stoics suggested one regularly rehearse worst-case scenarios. For example, twice a year, one should take
off one’s smart clothes, get into some dirty rags, sleep on a rug in the kitchen floor
and eat only stale bread and rainwater from an animal’s bowl – and thereby make an amazing
discovery. As Marcus Aurelius put it:
ALMOST NOTHING MATERIAL IS NEEDED FOR A HAPPY LIFE FOR HE WHO HAS UNDERSTOOD EXISTENCE Another subject of interest to the Stoics
was ANGER Romans were a bad tempered lot. The Stoics wanted to calm them down but they
did so by an unusual route: by intellectual argument. They proposed that getting angry
isn’t something you do by nature, because you have a Latin temper or are somehow inherently
hot blooded. It’s the result of being stupid, of having
the wrong ideas about life. Anger stems when misplaced hope smashes into
unforeseen reality. We don’t shout every time something bad happens to us, only when
it is bad and UNEXPECTED For example, you’d never shout just because
it started raining – even though rain can be horrible, because you’ve learnt to expect
rain. The same should apply to everything. Don’t
only expect rain, expect betrayal, infamy, sadism, theft, humiliation, lust, greed, spite… One will stop being so angry when one learns
the true facts of the misery of life. The wise person should aim to reach a state
where simply nothing could suddenly disturb their peace of mind. Every tragedy should
already be priced in. We’re going to leave you with the most beautiful
remark that Seneca made just as Nero’s guards were grabbing him and shoving him to a bathroom where he was meant to take a sharp knife and kill himself. His wife Paulina and two children were panicking, weeping, clinging to his cloaks. But he turned to them, pulled a weary smile at them, and simply said: WHAT NEED IS THERE TO WEEP OVER PARTS OF LIFE?
THE WHOLE OF IT CALLS FOR TEARS. We have much to learn from the Stoics.