Thursday, January 2, 2014
To begin, I must apologize for my silence these past few months. I have seen marked improvement in my health, and I hope to see more. In the meantime, I am returning to semi-activity in my quest for Stoic understanding.
The world is falling apart, or so we are told, and so many of us have come to believe. Evil reigns across the globe and populations are enslaved or murdered. The natural world is being destroyed at an alarming rate, and we are facing a future of wastelands and pollution. The good are demonized and assassinated, while the bad triumph. Is all lost? Are we doomed globally and individually powerless to stop it? Is anyone left who teaches us to be 'good,' if we can even agree on what that means?
The popular response is despair, alienation and the vilification of the different. Are there no good people left on the earth, people like 'us'? But are we good at all, or are we all corrupt to our very core, as some would teach us, incapable of even the smallest act of goodness without the taint of evil? Have to good already gone, or were they ever even here?
I believe that good people exist. Moreover, I believe that they are numerous, legion, if they but knew it of themselves. I have no fear that ‘Good’ people will cease to exist, no matter what happens. Virtue is an inherent human quality. We are born with it, it isn’t taught to us. When we have fully matured, we can grow to see our utter interdependence on each other, and come to understand the fact that we actually require other humans, our friends and families, to survive at all. That interdependence, the ways in which we act and interact, are our ethics. And when our ethics exemplify the greatest excellence in human interaction, we can them virtues. Recent psychological studies have once again demonstrated the universality of virtue across cultures.
As as species, we have no lack of virtue. What we suffer from is an over-abundance of fear.
It is fear of pain, hunger, death, shame, helplessness, disease, injustice and more that cause us, and our brothers and sisters, to act against our inner virtue. And it is ignorance that creates that fear. It is my firm belief that knowledge, or more properly, wisdom (the virtuous/excellent application of knowledge), is the key to virtue through the elimination of fear.
Does a person fear death? Teach them that they are part of an ever changing cycle and that the change they make in the world for good will echo long after their energy is shared once again with the universe that birthed them.
Does a person fear shame? Teach them that their worth as a human is not measured by their wealth or beauty, but by the brightness of the spark of reason and compassion that dwells within them.
Does a person fear injustice and imprisonment? Teach them that they are only (though ultimately) responsible for their own action and inaction, and that their intent, the direction and aim of their action can never be restrained, though they fail to reach their goal.
Nature herself teaches us all of these things. The cycles of life and death in natural world open to us the secrets of immortality. The growth from seed and larva explain that not all that is within can always be seen. The effect of windblown sand on the hardest of stone unveils to us the importance of each grain in the achievement of great things.
This is why the Stoics have taught us to live according to Nature. She is our mother, our nurture and our teacher. Stoicism isn't the creation of a few Greek philosophers 2000 years ago. It is only one of the names given to this quest to understand ourselves, our interconnection with other humans and with the universe. It seeks to answer the questions of our existence, our presence and our purpose. It is only one name for that quest though, there are many others.
The Stoics, in the 500 years of their early existence, sought to create exercises to help us uncover these truths more easily, and to pass them down from teacher to student, as if to an aprentice, but one learning the art of living.
That is why I do not despair. If the very name of the Stoicism vanished from the earth, suppressed and forgotten, yet would men and women of virtue rediscover and recreate the same practices that would stem from the same teachings. For it is in us, as it will be in them, our children, to strive to become excellent human beings, to become sages.