“Sometimes, even to live is an act of courage” – Seneca
Several years ago I bought a book on the philosophy of Epictetus – the ancient Greek philosopher that lived in 55 A.D. I was profoundly effected by his words of wisdom, but only recently I discovered he was also the founder of Stocism.
Let me tell you, Stoicism is totally what I’m in to these days.
Remember that Stoicism isn’t about judging other people. It’s not a moral philosophy you’re supposed to project and enforce onto the world. No, it’s a personal philosophy that’s designed to direct your behavior. This is what Marcus Aurelius meant when he said: “Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.”
Definition from Britannica: “Stoicism, a school of thought that flourished in Greek and Roman antiquity. It was one of the loftiest and most sublime philosophies in the record of Western civilization. In urging participation in human affairs, Stoics have always believed that the goal of all inquiry is to provide a mode of conduct characterized by tranquillity of mind and certainty of moral worth.”
“Nobody likes being wrong, we’re told. Least of all those individuals who suffer from pathological narcissism. They have to believe that they were right all along, even when it becomes obvious they are very much in the wrong.
Figures who live in the public eye, such as celebrities and politicians, if they become overly-incentivized by praise, risk turning this into a habit. As Aristotle once said, habits become our “second nature”. They solidify into character traits if we’re not careful.
So do we always have to be right? The ancient Greek philosophers — who loved paradoxes — said the opposite: maybe true wisdom requires the capacity to delight in being proven wrong. My favourite expression of this idea comes from Epicurus:
In a philosophical dispute, he gains most who is defeated, since he learns the most. — Epicurus, Vatican Sayings, 74
How crazy is that? Perhaps sometimes the person who gains the most is the one who loses the argument. The one who wins the argument gains nothing, except perhaps some praise — but what does that matter? The one who loses, though, gains knowledge, and perhaps gets a step closer to achieving wisdom. It wasn’t just Epicurus who had this paradoxical insight. The rival Stoic school of philosophers taught essentially the same thing. This article will focus on what one Stoic in particular, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, said about the benefits of being proven wrong. (For a more in-depth discussion of Marcus’ life and philosophy, see my book How to Think Like a Roman Emperor.)
The Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius looked up to one man above all others: his adoptive father, the preceding emperor, Antoninus Pius. In his private notes, which we call The Meditations, Marcus carefully lists the qualities he most admires in Antoninus, despite the fact that by this time he had been dead for over a decade.
We can think of this as Marcus’ attempt to study and emulate what today we would call the Emperor Antoninus’ leadership qualities. He tells himself to be, in every aspect of life, a student of Antoninus (Meditations, 6.30). It’s a fascinating analysis of the man’s character. However, for our purposes, I just want to draw attention to one of the things that Marcus says:
[Remember] how he would tolerate frank opposition to his views and was pleased if somebody could point to a better course of action. — Meditations, 6.30
Earlier in the book we find something related:
And most admirable too was his readiness to give way without jealousy to those who possessed some special ability, such as eloquence or a knowledge of law and custom and the like, and how he did his best to ensure that each of them gained the recognition that he deserved because of his eminence in his particular field. — Meditations, 1.16
In other words, although he was a hard-working and intelligent ruler, the Emperor Antoninus also had the wisdom to know when to listen to experts. Marcus admired this as an example of the man’s strength of character, self-awareness, and humility. If someone showed him he was wrong, rather than being offended, he was pleased. It didn’t hurt his pride or damage his ego, as we say today. Antoninus was a big enough man, and emotionally mature enough, not only to deal with criticism but to actively seek it out and welcome it as an opportunity for personal growth. That was one of the qualities which made him such an exceptional leader.
Marcus says that it was his Stoic mentor, Junius Rusticus, who first persuaded him that his own character required correction and even therapy. (Literally, he uses the Greek word therapeia.) He also tells us that he often became irritated or angry with Rusticus and was thankful that he never lost his temper with him over the years. Elsewhere, Marcus tells us that showing a man his moral faults is like telling him he has bad breath or body odour (Meditations, 5.28). People often don’t like hearing it and so there’s an art to communicating criticism effectively. It requires a delicate combination of honesty and tact. Rusticus was adept at this. Nevertheless, Marcus found that it required lifelong training to genuinely welcome plain speaking and criticism from others.
We enslave ourselves to external things and other people whenever we betray reason. True, absolute freedom would consist in doing what we know is right, regardless of the cost. Sometimes it takes courage to admit you’re wrong, and in that moment you’ve broken free. If you change your mind to please other people, sure enough, that’s a form of slavery. However, if it’s because you genuinely recognize that you were in error then the opposite is true — you’ve liberated yourself by admitting your mistake.
My EP from 2005. This picture is from our photo shoot in the Castro in 2002. Chuck Butter and Liz Rose
Black is almost all I wear, honestly. I’ve often wondered why this is the case. Most of my friends wear nothing but black. What’s going on? I like what this article has to say:
“Colors excite our minds in various ways, and how we react to some of them can tell a lot regarding our personalities.
One study states that black is seen as ‘serious’ and ‘reliable,’ which means confident:
The study states: “Black is Best Most of the Time.”
“Throughout all our survey, black came first or second in most “good” traits (for example confidence, intelligence and sexiness) and barely figured in the “bad” traits (arrogance). It wasn’t a particularly good performer in the “generosity” scale, however, coming second to last after brown, but it’s hard to imagine is being any other way. Try getting your kid to sit on the knee of a black-clad Santa.
Benevolent nocturnal visitations aside, black is the colour to wear when you’re trying to impress, reassure or woo. There’s a certain trustworthiness about it on a person that would make you hand over your life savings and thank them for the privilege.”
“Black is generally an indication of “seriousness” and reliability”, so it stands at the top of the list of colors that both sexes find beautiful.
The answer is simple. Confidence. Almost half of the women and 64% of the men participating in the study think that black emits self-sufficiency. It is the most beautiful, bold, confidence-boosting and calming color that exists.
Those who wear all black are also usually very sensitive, a bit unstable, and want to draw attention on who they are and what they are trying to achieve in life, rather than on their appearance. Another study stemming from color psychology, says that people who love black often have a desire to reclaim their power.
Johnny Cash said: “I wore black because I liked it. I still do, and wearing it still means something to me. It’s still my symbol of rebellion – against a stagnant status quo, against our hypocritical houses of God, against people whose minds are closed to others’ ideas.”
We are absolutely in the thick of it. Last week encompassed all the shadow themes of Pluto: addiction, obsession, sex, power, secrets, control, and the toxic sides of our psyche that desperately need healing. Over the past five months, during Pluto’s retrograde, each of us has looked for our own patterns around control and power. Do we use our power to help others? Do we abuse power and try to control or shame people? Do we hand our power over to feel safe or loved?
We are about to take the revelations we have received, and put them into positive practice. There’s a lighter side to Pluto – healing, evolution and rebirth. With Pluto’s help we find a new awareness around our deepest pain, we are purified and then magnificently transformed. All of us.
The USA is currently having a Pluto return – and we can clearly see these themes being played out on the national stage. Secrets are being brought out into the light, people in power are being confronted, and sexual crimes against women are being acknowledged and (hopefully) shown a new level of respect and understanding. Our country is absolutely divided in half over the injustices around race, and the huge disparities between the rich and the rest of us. Despite the intensity of these battles, the potential for real healing and a higher standard is possible. Pluto insists we evolve.
“When solving problems, dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves.” – Anthony J. D’Angelo
Monday, October 1st: Moon into Cancer at 11:00am Pacific. A very sensitive day, so avoid too much truth. Be gentle with yourself and others today. If you need to indulge in comfort food, go for it.
Tuesday: We are in the dark of the moon, so take it easy this week. Catch up on rest and wrap up loose ends. Start new projects next week. Mars square Uranus ends today, closing an explosive period of male rebelliousness and entitlement. Last week’s full moon in Aries was played out by Kavanaugh in the Supreme Court hearings last week, while women’s search for the truth, justice and equality embodies Venus in Scorpio and the Libra Sun.
Wednesday: Moon VOID until 2:00pm, then into Leo. Continue to be low key and avoid social complications. This evening is great to go out and socialize or see a live performance.
Thursday: Moon in Leo. You can freely communicate anything you’ve been holding back this week. Leo validates our individual identities, and rules the heart and self expression. This is a great day to speak the truth to authority.
Friday: Venus Retrograde at 10 Scorpio. Experience some beauty today, and aim towards a light hearted social evening if possible.