It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgements concerning them.
In last month’s post we saw how it is hard to retain happiness and how this concept might be even misleading; how trivial things can spoil our life and finally how our own thought process can help us to get closer to our goals and to a life worth living.
In this post we will continue our conversation and will look at one of the most famous Stoic quote:
“It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgements concerning them.”
This short sentence is one of the cornerstones of Stoic philosophy, let’s see how:
It is safe to say that you – at least once in your lifetime – have experienced something that you can refer to as happiness.
How long did it last? Not long, I imagine. Perhaps, you uneventfully transitioned to something that resembled ‘normality’, or worse, other issues came up immediately and spoiled your mood.
Even though happiness didn’t last long, it does not stop you from seeking more of it.
But what kind of happiness are you seeking? The immediate kind? Fuelled by sex drugs and rock and roll? Happiness as a reward for your hard work and sacrifice? Maybe by obtaining an object of desire, such as a new house, job, car or spouse? Or are you just, “kinda-okay” – happy to sit and wait?
The choice seems to be between obtaining happiness now, later, or not seeking it at all. With the first, you will be happy immediately and miserable later, with the second, you will be waiting agonic until your goal materialises, and maybe, in the long run, you will feel happier. With the third, you are not even trying.
These are the options, are you ready?
If you haven’t chosen to give up already, maybe there is a better option. Let’s see what ancient Greece and Rome thought about this topic!
“It isn’t the events themselves that disturb people, only their judgements about them”
“If it is not right don’t do it,if it is not true don’t say it”
“Through my efforts, I gain the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”
Secular serenity preyer
In today’s English, we refer to stoicism as: the
ability or the predisposition of a person to endure pain or hardship without
the displaying of feelings.
However, that is not Stoicism!
Stoicism is a philosophy, a school of thought founded
in Athens about 2300 years ago by a man named Zeno of Citium. Zeno started his
school by standing on a porch in the market and talking to anyone who happened
by. The word for porch in Greek is stoa, and the followers of Zeno were
known as Stoics.
Stoicism became the preeminent philosophy of ancient
Greece and Rome; it penetrated all sectors and classes of the society such that
two of the most important Stoic authors are the slave Epictetus and the emperor
Stoicism flourished for nearly 500 years, until the
fall of the empire. It re-emerged occasionally in many philosophers and thinkers
during the Renaissance when people returned to reason to find answers about how
However, only recently has it been rediscovered as a philosophy
to live by!
The next session will focus on the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius, in conjunction with the publication of the newest book of Stoic writer Donald Robertson: How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius.
Marcus was the last emperor of the so called ‘Five-Good-Emperors’ period of the Roman Empire. He spent 12 years of his reign fighting the Germanic tribes on the border of the Empire (the same as seen at the beginning of the film Gladiator).
And, at nights in his tent, he wrote his most famous work Meditation (or ‘to himself’). Consequently, this book is a sort of diary and philosophic text. It contains an amazing recollection of the most important Stoic teachings plus the internal discussion of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, resulting in the most intimate, lonely and rational diary that you will ever encounter.
In the life-long search for eudaimonia (happiness) the Stoic tell us to focus on three aspects of ourselves:
what we think (thought),
how we react (feeling) and
how we act (behaviour).
In this meeting, I want to discuss with you, how can we act.
in this case, the Stoics will refer to the concept of Arete!
In English, this is commonly translate as virtue. However, a better translation
would be “excellence of character”, implying that we have to be better version
In particular they would focus on four cardinal virtues:
Courage of facing reality
Justice or fairness
Temperance or self-control
In our meeting we will discuss how can be better version of
ourselves and how by being virtuous we can be happy and more satisfied with our
Since antiquity, all philosophers have tried to answer the fundamental questions, providing what they consider to be the true “truth of existence”.
Despite that, a question is left: What kind of advantages can the study of philosophy bring to me? especially in my daily life? Can I turn knowledge into power?
The philosopher Epictetus, promises us, that the study of Stoicism can deliver us practical and useful tools, that we can apply in our life, to reach what the Greeks called eudaimonia, in English happiness (or serenity of the spirit).
In this new meeting we are going to discuss these tools and how can we reach the ultimate goal of Stoic philosophy: Happiness!.
This is a transcription of my introductory speech for the first Stoic meeting of the Cambridge Stoa
So, we are going to divide the meeting in the following
I want to explain to you, who am I; why I decide
to create this meet-up; I want to give a short intro an what is Stoicism and
what it means to me and possible to you.
I want to hear from you, what is your experience
with Stoicism? Do you know it? Who of you ever heard about Stoicism?
Here with me I have many books, I thought we can
start by discussing one of the main topics of the Stoicism, the duality of
control, reading from Epictetus. If you want to discuss a specific topic, we
can discuss it, or better we can discuss next time.
Why this meeting?
For what concern me. I encountered Stoicism for the first
time, like many in school, but in more recent time, it started appearing in my podcasts
then in and some videos on you tube. I wandered what was all that fuss about
and, in the last year started or so I start having an increasing interest in
I started reading the books, Donald Robertson, Pigliucci,
etc. I also went to a Stoic conference in London, the “Stoicon”.
There three-hundred people gather to discuss and listen
about stoicism. There again I met people from the Stoic Fellowship, an
international organization that promote the spread of Stoicism. I have joined
them and decide to start and seek people with this interest.
At the beginning of the year I have decide to create a meet-up event in Cambridge open for who is interested in the philosophy of Stoicisms.
Philosophy can be seen as dull and useless for the average man. However, Stoicism is nothing like that, it’s practical teaching and methods to coping mechanisms are aimed especially to who live a stress-full and chaotic life and Stoicism is becoming an important part of my life.