“Cynicism is a school of thought of ancient Greek philosophy as practiced by the Cynics. For the Cynics, the purpose of life is to live in virtue, in agreement with nature. As reasoning creatures, people can gain happiness by rigorous training and by living in a way which is natural for themselves, rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, sex, and fame. Instead, they were to lead a simple life free from all possessions.” Wikipedia
The cynics were famous for their disregard of the opinions of others, and to some it appears this philosophy is an attractive alternative to the enforced conformity of modern times. However rejecting society to live in the streets is in my mind is as baseless a way of life as endlessly striving to “fit in” and meet the expectations of society.
Living in agreement with nature in my mind starts with an understanding of man’s position in nature, which is that of a social ape with better communication skills than others in our clade. Being social is at the core of our being, and what it requires in me is the need to balance being a member of the social group while at the same time maintaining my independence of thought. Being neither a social conformist and striver, nor a social outcast living in the woods or street.
Being a member of the social group and living a virtuous life is not only complementary but supportive of each other. What use is the virtue of justice without it’s application in social settings and my interactions with others? It is by my interactions with others that I measure myself and my progress in living a virtuous life.
“There is no evil that does not offer inducements. Avarice promises money; luxury, a varied assortment of pleasures; ambition, a purple robe and applause, and the influence which results from applause, and all that influence can do. Vices tempt you by the rewards which they offer; but in the life of which I speak, you must live without being paid. Scarcely will a whole life-time suffice to bring our vices into subjection and to make them accept the yoke, swollen as they are by long-continued indulgence; and still less, if we cut into our brief span by any interruptions.” – Seneca. Epistulae Morales AD Lucilium
As the final act of this season’s performance of the endless play draws near, I am reminded that it does no good to be angry, jealous or envious of the .1% who accumulate ever more wealth and power to themselves. In the end, the result will be the same as it always has been, with the playing field leveled, the debris swept away and the start of the new season of “Who gets to be King of the Mountain?”.
How then should I live my life in the interim, chasing the carrots dangled by the puppet masters, railing against the injustice, or giving into despair? I will do none of these, but will instead recognize the cycle that I am a part of, and will attempt to live my life according to the values and virtues I have chosen, while ignoring the temptations and distractions of the circus.
The true rewards of living a virtuous life are internal – If I am doing so simply to receive the praise and admiration of others I am as guilt as the fallen. As Seneca says, “I must live without getting paid”. However it is the lack of that pay, and all the obligations that come with it, that frees me to truly be happy and unencumbered by expectations to meet the demands of others.
Likewise, I will not be angry with the fallen or those who brought (or bought) them to that state, but rather pity them all, because a lifetime will truly not be enough to remove the chains they have shackled themselves with.
“A winner never quits, and a quitter never wins”, Vince Lombardi
“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”, Will Rogers
“You need to know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em…”, The Gambler, Kenny Rogers
“No problem is so formidable that you can’t walk away from it.”, Charles Schulz (Peanuts)
I recently made the decision to quit an executive level role that I felt was not the right fit for me (or for the company I was working for), and as luck would have it, it was also the day while driving into work that Overcast replayed the Freakenomics podcast, “The Upside of Quitting”. Whether due to serendipity or confirmation bias, I do sometimes feel that life is not as random as physics would suggest.
As a practicing Stoic, making (or attempting to make) rational decisions is how I strive to live my daily life, and this episode and event highlighted a few truisms that align perfectly to that (and to my own experience):
- Live my own life, not someone else’s vision of what I should be or do
- Passion for a pursuit does not guarantee my success
- Fail fast (the hardest lesson for me as it contradicts my inherent bias to both not recognize when something is not working and to not give up)
- Life exists in the now – whatever has been invested in a losing proposition is done and gone. As Stevie Nicks sang, ‘Pick up the pieces and go home’ (or move on I would say)
- My most precious commodity is time – at every moment I need to examine what I am doing and ask myself, am I making the best use (as aligned with my concept of a virtuous life) of what time I have left?
- Striving for constant happiness in my job, relationships and life is a recipe for unhappiness – I have to take the good with the bad (or the desirable with the undesirable) in order to make progress in life