Participating in our present age’s revival of Stoicism, I have often had occasion to ask myself: How in the world can I, arguably an abject slave of pleasure and indolence, a rattle-headed, timid, and puerile old do-nothing, how can I of all people call myself a Stoic? For many is the time that my own native scrupulousness has argued that I was a hypocrite to do so while I remained so full of petty defects and so short on decisive willpower; and many is the time that I’ve been tempted to just jump ship and go native, to simply devote myself to whatever overpowering pleasure I can find.
Well, I haven’t jumped ship. In fact, you might say that I’m still aboard, swabbing the deck. I haven’t given up because I remember (a) that Nature is anything but simple, anything but black and white – that almost nothing is perfect or absolute; (b) that half a man is better than none, and an educated half-a-man may well be better still; and (c) that God has given me a certain problem to work on (i.e., myself), unknown to others, and that therein I have my work cut out for me.
And there’s another rationalization that I think has substantial weight to it: (d) that “Felix quem faciunt aliena pericula cautum” (which I read as: “Happy is he whom other people’s dangers make cautious”). In other words, why not improve oneself? Moreover, even if I am not living a Cynic’s life, homeless on the street, even if am neither Saintly nor Sagely, even if I cannot BE perfect, I can at least participate in the transmission of this most useful philosophy and way of life. Helping others to learn and understand how to live, in the course of living my own transient, microscopic little life, this benefits them, myself, and the world at large.
We are all aliens and strangers, and each comprises a little hidden world of his or her own. If we recuse absolutism and fanaticism and set about living decent lives, in toleration if not in real harmony, then the good of one can rub off on the good of another. In fact, the more that people are decent — or better yet, virtuous — the more lives and souls can be spared violence or the guilt of violence. Apply your Stoicism, apply your virtues, and try to live well. It’s what we’re meant to do.