I picked “How to be a stoic” out of curiosity. I had watched some lectures on this book earlier on YouTube and it acted as a hook. The author, Massimo Pigliucci is a professor of Philosophy at CUNY-Lehman College in New York City.
I liked the author’s style of storytelling. His analysis on how stoic philosopher Epictetus would have reacted to our modern day problems were spot on. He also shares his personal and other practitioner’s experience on stoicism.
These are some notes from the book:
The basic principles under Stoic system
- Follow the nature
- Dichotomy of control
- (Practical) wisdom
Author has put in a daily stoic practice exercise, which has come from Enchiridion by Epictetus
- Examine your impressions
“So make a practice at once of saying to every strong impression: ‘An impression is all you are, not the source of the impression.’ Then test and assess it with your criteria, but one primarily: ask, ‘Is this something that is, or is not, in my control?’ And if it’s not one of the things that you control, be ready with the reaction, ‘Then it’s none of my concern.’”
- Remind yourself of the impermanence of things.
“In the case of particular things that delight you, or benefit you, or to which you have grown attached, remind yourself of what they are. Start with things of little value. If it is china you like, for instance, say, ‘I am fond of a piece of china.’ When it breaks, then you won’t be as disconcerted. When giving your wife or child a kiss, repeat to yourself, ‘I am kissing a mortal.’ Then you won’t be so distraught if they are taken from you.”
- The reserve clause.
“Whenever planning an action, mentally rehearse what the plan entails. If you are heading out to bathe, picture to yourself the typical scene at the bathhouse—people splashing, pushing, yelling and pinching your clothes. You will complete the act with more composure if you say at the outset, ‘I want a bath, but at the same time I want to keep my will aligned with nature’ [that is, to apply reason to social living]. Do it with every act. That way if something occurs to spoil your bath, you will have ready the thought, ‘Well, this was not my only intention, I also meant to keep my will in line with nature—which is impossible if I go all to pieces whenever anything bad happens.’”
- How can I use virtue here and now?
For every challenge, remember the resources you have within you to cope with it. Provoked by the sight of a handsome man or a beautiful woman, you will discover within you the contrary power of self-restraint. Faced with pain, you will discover the power of endurance. If you are insulted, you will discover patience. In time, you will grow to be confident that there is not a single impression that you will not have the moral means to tolerate.”
- Pause and take a deep breath
“Remember, it is not enough to be hit or insulted to be harmed, you must believe that you are being harmed. If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation. Which is why it is essential that we not respond impulsively to impressions; take a moment before reacting, and you will find it is easier to maintain control.”
“We can familiarize ourselves with the will of nature by calling to mind our common experiences. When a friend breaks a glass, we are quick to say, ‘Oh, bad luck.’ It’s only reasonable, then, that when a glass of your own breaks, you accept it in the same patient spirit. Moving on to graver things: when somebody’s wife or child dies, to a man we all routinely say, ‘Well, that’s part of life.’ But if one of our own family is involved, then right away it’s ‘Poor, poor me!’ We would do better to remember how we react when a similar loss afflicts others.”
- Speak little and well
“Let silence be your goal for the most part; say only what is necessary, and be brief about it. On the rare occasions when you’re called upon to speak, then speak, but never about banalities like gladiators, horses, sports, food and drink—common-place stuff. Above all don’t gossip about people, praising, blaming or comparing them.”
- Choose your company well
“Avoid fraternizing with non-philosophers. If you must, though, be careful not to sink to their level; because, you know, if a companion is dirty, his friends cannot help but get a little dirty too, no matter how clean they started out.”
- Respond to insults with humor
“If you learn that someone is speaking ill of you, don’t try to defend yourself against the rumors; respond instead with, ‘Yes, and he doesn’t know the half of it, because he could have said more.’”
- Don’t speak too much about yourself
“In your conversation, don’t dwell at excessive length on your own deeds or adventures. Just because you enjoy recounting your exploits doesn’t mean that others derive the same pleasure from hearing about them.”
- Speak without judging
“Someone bathes in haste; don’t say he bathes badly, but in haste. Someone drinks a lot of wine; don’t say he drinks badly, but a lot. Until you know their reasons, how do you know that their actions are vicious? This will save you from perceiving one thing clearly, but then assenting to something different.”
- Reflect on your day
“Admit not sleep into your tender eyelids till you have reckoned up each deed of the day—How have I erred, what done or left undone? So start, and so review your acts, and then for vile deeds chide yourself, for good be glad.”
My take away from the book: be virtuous and have a set of principles for a content life.