Month: March 2018

Stoic advice

Character, our inner citadel.

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What is character?

Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men tumblr_inline_os6onoarwr1uk9lm5_500and weak men create hard times. 

Character, as defined by Ralph Waldo Emerson is a reserved force that acts by presence, and without means.

There are many roads in life, the most difficult and worthy of them require a certain kind force and attitude, a spectacle of fortitude that only a few manage to comprehend and to embody.

This is character, the powerful attitude available to anyone but attained by the few.

To comprehend character we must comprehend first gravity and trees, yes, trees.

Gravity is a roman word that comes from the latin gravitas, the romans used it to describe a man with a strong personality. A man that similated an immovable force, like a strong, unshakable pillar. 

You can see it in the face of a man that is dead serious about something.

Character is a superb business quality as it gives assurance to a man’s purpose, a man of gravity will stand for what he believes in and fight for what he wants, character is synonym with self-assurance and confidence.

Emerson also compares character with self-sufficingness.

Winston_Churchill_fbSelf-reliance is a core characteristic of a stoic character. Let us not forget that character must be independant, it must stand alone.

This solid foundation that is character can be comprehended and explained with the inner citadel  concept in stoicism.

The Inner Citadel is a fortress around your innermost self, so that externals, meaning  all the things we cannot control, are powerless against our higher sense of will and reason.

The power to do this, to put things to the test of our will and become unmovable is what constitutes a man of character. It is a virtue that must be practiced at all times.

To illustrate this idea better, Aulus Gellius describes it just perfectly.

These representations of the soul, which the philosophers call phantasiai, by which a person’s spirit is momentarily moved, at the first glimpse of the thing which presents itself to the soul: they do not depend upon the will, and are not free. Rather, by means of some kind of force which is peculiar to them, they throw themselves upon people, in order to be known. Assents, by contrast, which are called sunkatatheseis, by means of which these representations are recognized and judged, are voluntary and take place through human freedom. This is why, when a terrifying sound is heard-whether it comes from the heavens or from the collapse of some building, or whether it announces some kind of danger, or anything else of that nature it is necessary that the soul of the sage, too, be also slightly moved and constricted and terrified; not because he judges that some form of evil is present, but because of the rapid and involuntary movements, which usurp the proper task of the mind and of reason. The sage, however, does not give his assent immediately to such representations which terrify his soul; he does not approve them, but brushes them aside and rejects them, and it seems to him that there is nothing to fear from such things. This is the difference between the sage and the foolish person: the foolish person thinks that things are as they appear to the first emotion of his soul-that is to say, atrocious and frightful, and the foolish person approves by his assent these first impressions, which appear to justify his fear. But the sage, although the color of his face was briefly and rapidly altered, does not give his assent, but maintains the force and solidity of the dogma which he has always had about such representations: that they are not at all to be feared, but they terrify people by means of a false appearance and an empty terror.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that if we are capable of fear, we will readily find terrors.727-architecture-interior-old-dirty

In ultimate instance, character is a decision. Is that final freedom of which Viktor Frankl writes in A man’s search for meaning. The inner freedom of choosing to face everything that happens with a stout heart. This inner freedom that is the ultimate power to choose how we are going to face life, with virtue and courage or with fear and cowardice.

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Let your work be your worth

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Work. We all know what we need to do. The price of not doing what we know we must do is of course living a life of denial, a life of quiet desperation as Henry David Thoreau said. We do not do our work for several reasons but the main reason I believe is fear of success and greatness.

Greatness can seem like a majestic and unreachable deed. It’s hard to think about _84010986_zeno-chest-976Marcus Aurelius and Socrates or Alexander the great and not feel minuscule. But these men walked the earth  and lived the same 24 hours as we do today. To think of them as extraterrestrial is an enormous mistake because you no longer view them as what they are, fellow human beings.

Work must be done in silence. It’s very easy to talk about what we are going to do but it’s extremely difficult to walk the talk. We love to preach our plans to parents, girlfriends and friends but we forget that to work, we must work in silence. We dream too about the day when our plans are accomplished and done but when it comes to sit down and actually do the work, we open netflix instead hoping that someday some future me will be inspired to do something(needless to say, that time never comes).

We must not wait for inspiration. Work is painful and hard. It is warzone, we must think hard and put the hours and sometimes it doesn’t seem that we have achieved anything. This is the great wall that not many can or want to climb.

They say it’s very lonely at the top.  Nobody wants to suffer. We treat our dark feelings as burdens. They are not burdens, they are heavenly angels telling you what you need to do to be great. If you feel like shit, good, it means something needs to be changed. If you feel restless, good, it means that you need to sit down and write what can be done in order to gain peace again. No feeling is to be discarded, every feeling tells us something and so we cannot aim to be happy all the time nor we want to.

John F. Kennedy kept this poem in his wallet:3235913_Bullfight_Painting_Corrida_75.jpg

Bullfight critics ranked in rows.

Crowd the enormous plaza full.

But only one is there who knows,

and he’s the man that fights the bull.

I remember when I was younger, my boxing days. I wasn’t to old, around 14 to 15. I had a fight with a tough kid from a tough neighborhood and precisely that day I caught a cold. I was very, very sick. My father nevertheless, took me to the fight, as I couldn’t say I felt extremely bad for fear of being called a coward. When boxing, you have to be not only courageous, but really smart as well. Raw courage won’t help without brains to know when to punch and when to save energy.

I was really sick so I asked my father for advice as well as my coach. They bought told me: give everything you’ve got.

So I did exactly that, I gave everything I had but not very intelligently. I thought that giving everything would help me, but deep inside I knew I needed to trust my brains and fight slowly and defenselvy but instead I just threw punches as fast and often as I could so I tired myself in the first round. The other kid just played defensively and waited for the next round in which he beated the crap out of me. After the fight ended, I knew I should have listened to myself, I mean I was the one fighting. If I had listened to myself maybe I would have won,  (or lose, just not so horribly).

Nobody can fight your fights for you. Only you know what your work is. Ask for advice but remember that at the end of the day, it’s your call the only one that counts. Trust your instincts.

When it comes to work, we need to focus on the process. First trust ourselves to do what is necessary and then be quiet, be very quiet and attend to our work. Let your work, be your worth.