Learning from a Stoic

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

The quote above is from Marcus Aurelius the Emperor of Rome from 161-180 and a practitioner of the philosophy of stoicism.

Do you know much about stoicism?

I got curious in my twenties based on my friendship with my father.

My father was a World War II veteran. He rarely talked about his experience in the war, but I do know he returned home after being shot in his upper arm. Apparently he had nerve damage. In his forties he was diagnosed with colon cancer.  He dealt with it and never really spoke about either with us.

If you asked him he would say he had never been sick a day in his life.

He was very stoic about things. That’s what my mom used to say.

My dad was also very warm and lived with a twinkle in his eye. He laughed a lot and told corny jokes.

He could tell a story well, even if he told the same ones a few too many times.

You could find him at Mass every morning.

He would say the key to being happy was to not think too much about yourself.  He just dealt with what came along.

No whining, no complaining, no being bored. “If your bored you’re boring.” That’s what he would say. Get going.

As I got older my father’s example made me curious about what it truly means to be stoic. What is at the core of the philosophy.

So I read a bit about it. 

In reality I was always learning from a stoic and now I want to learn more about what it means to be a stoic.

Five Very Helpful Books for Learning From A Stoic:

The Obstacle is the Way:The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage by Ryan Holiday

This book has been very helpful when dealing with inevitable stumbles and adversity that we each face.

One basic premise is: It’s not what happens to you, it is how you react that really matters.

“Where the head goes, the body follows. Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective.

(You could also check out Ego is the Enemy)

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

A man with a lot of power who tried to think through things and do what was right. Sounds good right?

And, it is, but it’s also an inward focused book. He wrote of strength through self discipline and humility.

It is an ethical guide book, but it is not a page turner.

Letters from a Stoic by Seneca

Seneca was less austere then many of the other earlier writers.  Seneca’s book is a series of philosophical letters with excellent real world advice meant to be read by another.

“For the only safe harbour in this life’s tossing, troubled sea is to refuse to be bothered about what the future will bring and to stand ready and confident, squaring the breast to take without skulking or flinching whatever fortune hurls at us.” 

learning from a stoic

One of my favorite books– Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder –has a chapter on Seneca.

“It is far easier to figure out if something is fragile than to predict the occurrence of an event that may harm it.”

A Guide to the Good Life; The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

This is a good introduction to the Stoic philosophy.

What things in life are worth pursuing and how will you pursue them.

Let me know if I am missing any good books on stoicism or stoics.

From the Web

The counterpoints

Brad Pitt featured in the NYT

More on the Stoics:

Daily Stoic
How to be a Stoic
From the New Yorker  Such a Stoic

A bonus book–everyone liked my father. Everyone. I think this book helps explain why.