Stoicism is often misinterpreted and misunderstood, leading to various myths surrounding this ancient philosophy. Some people associate it with a lack of emotion or even a cold-hearted attitude. Others believe it promotes apathy towards the world and disconnection from society.
However, these are just some of the common myths about Stoicism that need to be debunked. In this article, we will explore five of these myths and help you understand what Stoicism truly stands for. So, let’s dive in and discover the truth about this fascinating philosophy.
1. Stoicism encourages people to escape the real world
Stoicism advises us to focus on what is within our power. Many people misunderstand that this advice encourages us to be indifferent to the world around us.
In contrast, living in harmony with society is essential when practicing stoicism. Two famous representatives of Stoicism — the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and the philosopher Seneca — both devoted their lives to society. The English writer Thomas de Quincey once described Marcus Aurelius in The Caesars as “the most realistic and human of the best of the emperors.”
In Stoicism there is a theory called “apatheia”, which refers to a state of mind that is not disturbed by the “passions”. This theory is often confused with emotional apathy and detachment from reality.
In fact, it just advises us not to indulge our emotions attachment in cause and effect. Instead, actively control yourself, understand and accept the outcome without fear or anger.
2. Stoicism makes people harsh, cold and emotionless
This misunderstanding occurs because Stoicism emphasizes practice and self-control, avoiding unnecessary emotions. However, what the Stoics were aiming for was moderation. Not because they don’t believe in pleasure, but because moderation makes pleasures more natural and lasting.
Seneca also advised in “On Anger”: “If we live a dry, cold, depressed life, we will avoid the danger of anger; but we get caught up in other exhausting mistakes — fear, boredom, discouragement, and suspicion. Such people need joy to be cheered, tolerant and uplifted.”
The Stoics are not cold either, as in “Discourses” Epictetus argues: “We should not be as emotionless as a statue, but should care about our relationships with instinct. and perception, […]”
Stoicism is not opposed to emotions, but to “negative emotions”, such as anger, stress, jealousy, and fear and emotions that aren’t right in the first place, so that they don’t push us into a state of heartbroken later.
3. Stoicism is selfish
Many people think that stoic people don’t want to be involved in life, only care about themselves, which is too selfish and unintentional. This misunderstanding is similar to the first misunderstanding.
People may initially come to thisism with a selfish motive, but if they keep that attitude, they cannot become a stoic. Stoicism emphasizes the practice of virtue, and unselfishness is a key factor. Accordingly, it is not a virtue to be indifferent to the sufferings or injustices of the world.
In “On the firmness of the wise man”, Seneca argues that wise people are still aware of pain and loss both mentally and physically, even though their principles still unmoved. Only then can they practice virtue.
The Stoic sees peace as when you don’t let yourself be consumed by the emotions caused by the meanness of bad people. Peace is not something that you practice, it is born because you learn and improve yourself to be more tolerant and loving towards more people.
Therefore, stoic practice are really concerned with society, with justice, with people’s pain, not just focusing on themselves as many people think.
4. Stoicism is a guide to life
Stoicism is not a set of secrets to your life, not telling you should to do and what not to do. All Stoicism can give you is a system of thought, and you can choose the right ideas to apply. You also need to evaluate the methods and goals set when practicing stoicism.
Thisism is also not a trick to help you achieve anything (like wealth, personal ambition, etc.). In contrast, practicing stoicism helps you distinguish between what you can and cannot control. That mindset determines your attitude toward various problems, including crises and the loss of not getting what you want.
5. Stoicism is a religion
If “religion” to you is prayers, worship, rituals, temples, precepts, etc., then Stoicism is not a religion. Philosopher Edward Caird called Stoicism a religious philosophy.
Strictly speaking, Stoicism is in harmony with the good commandments in many religions, since it is geared towards spiritual training. But stoicism does not require you to change your lifestyle, daily work to devote to it, nor does it have any ceremonial precepts that you must follow.
The only thing you need to do is apply and practice regularly. If you feel that stoicism is right for you, keep doing it, otherwise, you are free to stop at any time.
Here are some common myths about Stoicism. These misunderstandings can be seen to be divided into two distinct extremes: either being viewed too negatively, or being too worshiped. The final piece of advice is to approach stoicism with a relaxed mind and a clear head. And you, how do you think about stoicism?