Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it. — Epictetus
At some point in our lives, we’ve all wondered about whether or not we are cool. What is “being cool” anyway?
So there’s this amazing book by oldie basketball star Walt Frazier, Rockin’ Steady’s the name. He describes his life and what seems to be a philosophy in itself about how to be cool. There are tons of jewels in the book, so if you have time to read it, go ahead, it is a good book.
It is profoundly related to Stoicism as well.
Stoic philosophy allows you to be a winner all the time. The most important thing in your life, according to Stoic philosophy, should be your will, and the capacity to control your reactions and desires. Because of this, you can live in a way in which nothing brings you down (that’s the idea).
You always win because you do not desire anything outside your will, nothing external. Sure it’d be nice to have a nice car or a big fancy house, but those things are not paramount for your happiness for the simple reason that they are not under your total control. It’d be better instead, and also more rational, to desire to become a man who, through his actions, is able to get that kind of stuff. Praising more his capacities than the stuff in his life.
You find happiness in your capacity to react in the way you choose to, towards anything. If you manage to control this, you become immediately cool.
When the guys in the neighborhood find out you’re changing diapers, the trick is to make them think that, yeah, he-men do that all the time — Walt Frazier
Did you catch what he did there?
He controlled the frame of the interaction. That’s being under control, that is owning yourself, that is being cool. Independent of other people’s opinions.
Stoic philosophy teaches you how to be cool.
Think about it, what he did there was to control the reaction toward guys trying to make fun of him for changing his sister’s diaper. But, he did not succumb to his friend’s frame, which dictated changing diapers to be something uncool to do, he instead defined what cool was for himself.
This small story reminds me a lot of Diogenes of Sinope, he was the master of going his own way. Of course, we still have to maintain social awareness, but we should never let ourselves feel down because of what other people think about us. It is their problem, not ours.
At some point in the book, he begins to talk about the old days of slavery. He theorizes that “cool” could have begun to happen when the African Americans had no control, or at least very little, over their external lives. What they did was that they kept their cool and composure, as a way of saying, we’re still in the game.
This attitude of “I’m still in the game”, is profoundly Stoic. It is about how a man bears his existence, his poise, and control, how he moves and acts. If he manages to “keep cool”, no matter the situation his in, he will have succeeded.
And yet, how terribly difficult it is to lose your cool, your stoicness. How many situations in life throw us out of balance? How many times in the day do you lose your cool? If you ask me, many.
It can be something as simple as feeling overwhelmed by work, or talking to a girl, we retreat.
But we shouldn’t, we should remain cool and remember that we cannot really lose, because the only thing we truly desire is self-ownership, the power to still remain in the game, the power to grin and to keep going. You have that, no one can take that from you, and if that doesn’t embolden you to live your life, as Miles Davis would say, like a COOL MOTHERFUCKER, I don’t know what else will.
Subscribe and receive the Askesis (practice) e-book for free to further develop your stoic practice.