Today’s reflection is difficult to swallow.
What do people value the most? A lot would say money, some would say family, even fewer would be peace of mind. Guess what a Stoic should value? Well if it isn’t obvious, the philosophy demands that the Stoic only value those which allow him to live by nature, and all other things should be discarded.
In BOOK 6 of Meditations, Marcus describes to himself how he is free to experience anything except those that would force him to feel passions, such as anger, envy & jealousy. And then I reflect on the value of money to the Stoic. If I aim for wealth, does it make me experience passions that are unworthy of my attention?
I consider money as a means to gain security, but at the same time power. To have control over circumstances, because I have the means (by buying) to avert, or change my situation. If I feel sick, I can afford the best health care. If I am threatened, I could buy the best protection. If I want to acquire something, there are hardly any obstacle to obtaining them. Yet, as I do think about this pursuit for wealth, I often think about those who are already in the position I want to be: wealthy.
What do I feel when I think about them?
I feel envy. “Why don’t I have what they have?”
I feel anger. “Why do those who don’t deserve wealth, become wealthy?”
I feel inadequate. “Why can’t I do what they do?”
I feel incapable…
And all these passions sometimes overwhelm my mood that I couldn’t make correct decisions. Maybe because I’m focusing on the thing that is beyond my control: The Circumstances of Others Relative to My Own.
On the very first book, Marcus asks: why do the external bother me? Why do I wish to have what others have?
A Stoic lives within himself, maintaining an outlook that gives more importance to what I can accomplish at my own pace, without using other people as a benchmark. I should not measure myself to standards set by other people, rather I set a goal that is within what I am capable of and accept the limits of my circumstances
So what should I value? To live the stoic life, of reason and by nature, so that I could possess virtue. To exist not driven by desire, but to form myself that I may continue to aim true and never be misguided. This doesn’t mean I will stop aiming for wealth, but I will refuse to experience the passions associated with trying to obtain it.
I will not be envious of the success of others.
I will not commit so much of my energy that I obsess over attaining wealth.
I will not be frustrated by my inability to accomplish this goal.
I will however, aspire to achieve the success of others. I will commit as much time necessary, but not to forget to live my life. I will learn from my inabilities, that I may learn from them and build up my skill to reach my goal.
But as a Stoic, I recognize that I am not yet the Wise Man, and I have to recognize that in these tasks, I may fail, and I should accept that possibility, but not to dwell but continue trying.