You’ve probably heard of a dead guy named Seneca: a Roman Philosopher and Stoic who lived from 4 BC – 65 AD.
The man wrote like thirteen books, got super famous, amassed millions in Roman bux, banged loads of groupies—only to be ordered to suicide by his student, the hyper-Sadist, Emperor Nero—for his supposed involvement in an assassination plot.
And old Seneca, he went stoic-style, without so much as a whimper, slitting his wrists and draining himself into a bathtub while his entourage wept around him.
Seneca had long written about being mentally prepared for the worst, for failure, for death.
Are you ready for death? Have you done what you wanted to do? Would you go quiet as a dove, or screaming for mercy, over the injustice of it all?
When your expectations are low, you can’t be upset. Seneca asked us all to be prepared for the worst, as the worst is inevitable. If nothing surprises you, then you can’t be angry.
This is the stuff of a healthy mind. The insane delude themselves that comfort and luxury are normal and eternal; that they are exempt from loss or pain. The Stoics said these things are to be expected, embraced even. A hard life is a good life.
Anyway, here is a great man who lived an amazing life—yet preached a simple, virtuous and humble one. Sure Seneca has been accused of being a hypocrite…but whatever. Just read this passage on “Character,” from Letters from a Stoic in which he makes fun of institutionalized education and it’s inability to instil or advocate Character as a valuable education. Not much has changed.
I urge you to take your time reading this passage. Read two or three times if you don’t understand. Some writing is meant to be read slowly.
Bravery is the one which treats with contempt things ordinarily inspiring fear, despising and defying and demolishing all the things that terrify us and set chains on human freedom. Is she in any way fortified by liberal studies?
Take loyalty, the most sacred quality that can be found in a human breast, never corrupted by a bribe, never driven to betray by any form of compulsion, crying: ‘Beat me, burn me, put me to death, I shall not talk – the most the torture probes my secrets the deeper I’ll hide them!’ Can liberal studies create that kind of spirit?
Take self-control, the quality which takes command of the pleasures: some she dismisses out of hand, unable to tolerate them: others she merely regulates, ensuring that they are brought within healthy limits; never approaching pleasures for their own sake, she realizes that the ideal limit with things you desire is not the amount you would like to but the amount you ought to take.
Humanity is the quality which stops one being arrogant towards one’s fellows, or being acrimonious. In words, in actions, in emotions, she reveals herself as kind and good-natured towards all. To her the troubles of anyone else are her own, and anything that benefits herself she welcomes primarily because it will be of benefit to someone else. Do the liberal studies inculcate these attitudes? No, no more than they do simplicity, or modesty and restraint, or frugality and thrift, or mercy, the mercy that is as sparing with another’s blood as though it were its own, knowing that it is not for man to make wasteful use of man.
Seneca was the Dale Carnegie of the Jesus times. Advocating for enlightenment and teaching Romans how to win friends and influence people.
The rules for a happy, abundant, fulfilled life aren’t to be found only on your Tony Robbins DVD’s. We didn’t invent self-development in 2015. It’s just the Internet has allowed us to share old ideas in a new way.
I think Seneca would approve of the lessons that man learns from seduction, but not the lifestyle of pleasure seeking and debauchery, for too much pleasure makes us weak of mind and body.
A little pain, a little failure, builds character. And still our society lacks this education.