To Be or Not To Be…a Stoic?

I never knew my goal was to be a stoic, but it seems to be where I need to put my head these days. Every day I read my favorite truism which appears on a piece of cross-stitch created by my aunt in 1977 (see photo on website).

Many know the “Serenity Prayer” — some from support meetings, some from samplers. This prayer, which appeared as early as 1937, has been attributed to the noted American theologian Reinhard Niebuhr. I have used it to start my day for years, sometimes more successfully adhering to it than others.

I have learned from reading an article appearing in The Conversation – an online newsletter – that the precursor to this verse was attributed to Epictetus, a Roman slave (50-135 A.D.) His thoughts were recorded as: “Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. Some things are up to us and some things are not up to us. Our opinions are up to us, and our impulses, desires, aversions—in short, whatever is our own doing. Our bodies are not up to us, nor are our possessions, our reputations, or our public offices, or, that is, whatever is not our own doing.”

Probably the most famous of the Stoics was also a Roman Emperor (161-180 A.D.), Marcus Aurelius. According the article, “he had another strategy, reminding himself each morning that he was probably going to encounter a lot of angry, stressed, impatient, ungrateful people during the coming day. By reflecting on this in advance, the hope was that he would be less likely to respond in kind. But he also reflected on the fact that none of these people would be like this intentionally. They were the victims of their own mistaken judgements.

Here we get another paradox: no one chooses to be unhappy, stressed, angry, miserable, and yet these are in fact all the product of our judgements, the one thing within our control.”

I struggle with this paradox daily. Do you?

To read the entire article:


  1. I wasn’t able to respond earlier when I tried. Even now I don’t really have much to say because I don’t have a good answer. I do try to remind myself each morning that I should be grateful to be waking up and seeing what is usually a sunny day. I’ve heard many philosophical comments about how we should live our lives, and I think most of those comments were written when things were going well for the people who said them.

    From what I understand, normal, well-balanced people can assure themselves that whatever a problem is will pass, or that it could be worse. In contrast, people who have true depressions or other issues that are as much physical as they are mental or emotional will not be able to rise above them. Then, in situations in which a well-balanced person is watching a loved-one suffer, and is unable to “fix” the problem, it would be natural to give in to a feeling of helplessness.

    As trite as it sounds, all you can do is do the best you can. If you are overly tired or not feeling well, it will be more difficult to keep a reasonable attitude. At times like that, you can only remind yourself that things will get better, or that they won’t, but either way, you are only human, and you’re doing all that you can do.


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