Stoicism: The Art of Tranquility?

Zeno of Citium (modern day Cyprus) founded this school. He was a rich merchant, and when he was travelling to Greece, a storm sank his ship. Now, with no ship, no money and lost in Athens, with nothing to do, he decided to walk into a bookstore; always intrigued by philosophers, he asked the book keeper to point him towards where they study. After studying with them for a while, he decided to start his own school, and they met on the Stoa Poikile or the painted porch. Soon they were named Stoics (from Stoa).

Stoa, or open porch, where the Stoics used to gather to discuss their ideology
A stoa
I have to die. If it is now, well then I die now; if later, then now I will take my lunch, since the hour for lunch has arrived—and dying I will tend to later.
— Epictetus

This quote represents, first, a stoic sense of humour, which sounds like an oxymoron but it isn’t; also, it tells us how stoics perceive the changes in their lives. Since we don’t have control over what affects us, we can control how we react.

The stoic, rather than picturing an ideal world where everything goes according to their liking, tries dealing with the world as it is while pursuing self-improvement.

They practice virtues while doing the above.

Logic, Physics and Ethics

If you could think of Stoicism as a garden, the fence would be the logic: it protects you from other ways of thinking, keeping your system intact. The nurturing ground is physics, the best understanding we can possibly have on how the world works. Stoics believed that you will not lead a good life unless you know how the world works. The fruits that are being nourished by the nurturing ground are ethics; and since this is Ancient Greece, it isn’t just how to answer certain questions—it’s the basic guide to how life is to be lived.

Stoicism isn't only about self-improvement; and its adherents aim to improve everyday life for everyone around then. They believe one cannot instil positive change in their surroundings until they have made necessary improvements in themselves.

When Rome recognised slaves as property, Seneka—a famous Stoic proponent and an influential senator—called for their humane treatment and stressed that we all share the same fundamental humanity.

Marcus Aurelius, one of Rome’s greatest emperors, led his empire through two major wars while dealing with the deaths of many of his children with the help of stoicism; many centuries later, his journals would help guide one of the most important people in history through his time in jail fighting for racial equality in South Africa. Nelson Mandela, after his victory, stressed peace and reconciliation, teaching people that while the crimes of the past cannot be undone, we should live in the present and seek for a better, a more just future. Applying one of the virtues of Stoicism.

Nelson Mandela, one of the most influential and important people in the world, used the help of Stoicism to get through the time he spent in jail

Stoicism may seem like being virtuous and logical is all you need to lead a happy life; yet, while they do put these in the top priority, preferred indifferents are also of importance to them. Preferred indifferents refers to health, wealth, education and all those types of things. So what they preach is: while being virtuous will lead to having a moral life, losing your health or wealth will not rob you of that moral life as long as you continue to lead it. So it isn’t as important but it is valid. While other schools like the cynics believed that being moral and ethical in life is all that you need, family, wealth and all were distractions.

To now address the elephant in the room: is Stoicism the art of tranquility? While the evidence above suggests that Stoicism will lead only to good things, we all know it’s a little curious when things are going unimaginably good for us. So is there a bad side to Stoicism?

Since this was written many centuries ago, there might be arguments expressing how the scriptures will only refer to the male. But I personally think if the school of Stoicism were to exist today, it would be very inclusive and open for everyone.

Stoicism focuses on eliminating emotion from the process of finding a solution, while this is an admirable quality while carrying out difficult tasks like that of an army major. But when it comes to personal matters, the involvement of feeling plays a major role. That’s what makes us human, so removing that aspect is basically making us robots. You cannot start quoting stoicism when a loved one passes away,

We have entered the kingdom of Fortune, whose rule is harsh and unconquerable, and at her whim we will endure suffering, deserved and undeserved

This was told by a Stoic to a mother who had just lost her son, now I don’t know about you, but I find that a tad inappropriate

So on that note, I would like to wrap this up by saying while stoicism is beneficial to most aspects of life, it should always be “used” in moderation, like countless other things in life.