"Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body."
All undesirable circumstances afford us the opportunity to practice virtue. It is the moments in life we least enjoy which are our greatest assets.
Stoicism is a school of philosophy founded by Zeno in the 3rd Century B.C. Stoicism teaches that virtue is the sole requirement for happiness, and through the use of logic and awareness one’s mental calm can become impervious to circumstance. In my early twenties, I carried Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations with me at all times, and I now read a letter of Seneca each morning. In a world hell-bent on serving the machine and not the man, Stoic teachings stand guard at the gates of our mind.
“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”
All great stories require conflict. It is the struggle that creates the hero. Consider the appeal of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea had the great marlin willingly jumped into the skiff, presenting itself for slaughter. What would Moby Dick have been had the white whale never destroyed Ahab’s ship, and his leg with it?
Stories are allegories for our lives.
The struggle makes the story. The conflict makes the man. Hindsight shows me that times of struggle have served me more than times of praise.
We strengthen our virtue the same way we strengthen our muscles, through repetition. We go to the gym to build strong legs; We go to the wicked to build strong minds. Often, the person we dislike the most is our greatest asset in personal development.
The individual we fail to love is the one who needs our love the most. This is the embodiment of Christ’s teachings, but the wise man seeks to love others not for their sake, but for himself. Mark Twain taught this:
“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
Opportunity is difficulty in disguise, and behind its veil lies our greatest freedom.
Spark Your Growth
The outspoken theist who lives furthest from his doctrine, the man who cuts me off in traffic, long lines at the grocery store and intermittent internet connections all afford me the opportunity to practice virtue.
In Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl teaches:
"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
Stoicism is a framework with which we navigate this space; all teachings are. The key is being aware that the space exists, and having the courage to accept you are it's master.