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The Road to the Good Life?

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  1. Introduction
  2. The stoics believe that people should only concern themselves with things that are up to them
  3. Seneca's leniency on the issue of relationships
  4. A dangerous preoccupation with the self
  5. Conclusion

Today, when people use the word stoic, they often are not referring to the philosophical tradition, but to a type of person who does not show much outward emotion, someone who is strong in the face of tragedy or pain. However, in a culture in which we are encouraged to express our emotions (to an extent), people who refrain from mourning the death of a loved one or mourning the end of a relationship, are often considered emotionally stunted or frigid. Nonetheless, the stoics prized control over one's emotions. Stoics believed that in order to live ?a good life? people needed to separate themselves from their experiences and from their emotions. They needed to put space in between what was happening to them and how they reacted to these experiences. Thus they saw emotions or at least the outward expression of emotions as injurious to becoming truly free and attaining wisdom. For the stoics, personal freedom and self-determination were prized above all else; however, these virtues came at a price, for as Epictetus says, ?Nothing comes for free? (The Handbook, ¶12). Therefore, according to this view, in order to become a sage and to ?bring one's will into accord with nature's?, one has to cultivate himself/herself at the expense of relationships with others.

[...] However, if a person learns that someone has made disparaging remarks about him or her, Epictetus instructs the injured party to reply, ?Obviously he didn't know my other bad characteristics, since otherwise he wouldn't just have mentioned these? (The Handbook, Thus we should not bother ourselves with what others say or think of us because we have no control over their opinions, only our own. Since our emotions are up to us, the stoics suggest that we exercise control over them; they believe that we have a choice in how we respond to events in our lives, and that emotions cloud what is real. [...]

[...] Perhaps the stoics saw vulnerability as a weakness, but it does not have to be. A person who can be vulnerable to others often times knows themselves better than a person who shuts down in relationships because the vulnerable person knows how to let a person into their life without having to put up walls. A person with the capacity to be vulnerable does not have to close himself off in order to be strong; he can let other people affect him and learn from them. [...]

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