My Life as Training


“Nature does not permit good men to be harmed by what is good. Virtue is the
bond between good men and the Gods. The good man is given trials so as to
harden himself”–Seneca

Training. Invented by the Greeks?

When I read this quote, I thought to myself:  life is a training ground for you to get better.  All the trials and challenges that are sent to me are for me to train to make me better.  They are all sent here for me to test my mettle.  They are sent to build my virtue.

I differ with Seneca just a little.  I don’t think Nature is scheming to make me better.  In fact, I have some trouble envisioning Nature as caring one way or another about my virtue.  While I do think that there are things in this universe that I can’t explain, I don’t spend much time trying to figure out if God, the gods, or the universe has a plan for me, nor do I find it necessary to ask for the Divine to look out for me.  If the fates have a plan for me, then my asking for this or that will not change that plan.  As an added bonus to this strategy, I figure I am not wasting my time or that of the cosmos with my requests.  How’s that for faith?  In the end, I’m not even sure there is a plan for me or anyone else for that matter.  This is convenient, because I don’t really care about whether there is a plan or not.  I am agnostic to the BIG plan for me.

Gerd Kanter continues the Greek training legacy.

So, my job is not to decide whether there is or is not a BIG plan for me.  My job is to “act in the play” that I am a character in (see Epictetus/click here).  There are some who think that their God will not give them anything they can’t handle.  I really don’t think that way.  All I do is live my life one challenge at a time.  Also, I need to prepare myself through my philosophy to be a man of virtue no matter what scenes unfold in my “play.”

Life is training…for more life.  Life is training to become a man of virtue.

*Photo of Gerd Kanter World Athletics Championships 2007 in Osaka by  Eckhard Pecher*

Love in Moderation?


“But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” New American Standard Bible 1 Corinthians 13:13

Love is a very difficult emotion to describe.  It is a conglomeration of excitement, happiness, contentment, dedication, and commitment.  There are many different types of love.  There is brotherly/family love (as in Philia), romantic love (as in Eros), and spiritual or godly love (as in Agape).  In every case, there is little doubt that we should have as much love for our fellow human being as we can manage.

Philadelphia – The City of Philia…uhh Brotherly Love

So should we have love in moderation?  Is there anything negative about the impact of love in our lives?  There are some things that I think we should reflect on about love.  I can think of two cautions in particular about love.

The first caution can be found when we reflect on that much-praised “unconditional” love.  I don’t know how else to say this, but unconditional love is just plain stupid.  All love comes with conditions, and rightly so.  Look, if your son murders your daughter, your wife betrays you with an affair, or your mother fails to accept your new wife, and you say “I still love them no matter what,” that’s not love, that’s a desire for that person to be something that they are not.  In essence, you are “in love” with a fantasy of how you want things to be.  Yes, you want the situation (and the beloved) to be the way they used to be, or to be something they are not…which is someone who deserves your unconditional love.  I am a strong believer that true love requires great effort and plenty of commitment, not to mention forgiveness.  However, love cannot be unconditional.   Some things like my extreme examples above, require a reevaluation of whether an individual merits our love at all.  A series of smaller events, may also require an evaluation of what conditions I will put on my love for others.

The second caution about love is our expectation of receiving it.  If we are not paying attention to life as it is, we can begin to feel that because we deserve love, we should receive it.  Nothing can guarantee that anyone will love me, not who I am, what I do, nor how I feel about another.  I do crave live, but receiving love is largely out of my control.  A life of service, dedication, honesty, and loving others tends to increase the love we receive, but this is not guaranteed.  It is this expectation of return “in kind” that can lead me to unhappiness.

As usual, my point is not to dwell on the negative, but rather for me to be aware of things as they are.  I certainly shouldn’t live my life giving up on love, but if I am aware of the reality, then I can view love rationally.  When I am loved, I can appreciate it.  When I give love, I can do so knowing the guaranteed consequence which, as discussed, is NOTHING…but for knowing that I have loved well.

So, when we think rationally about love, we do lose some of that euphoria of that fantasy type of love.  There is a cost, I guess, to thinking too much.  On the other hand, there is a payoff as well.  When we pursue the good of virtue and excellence, it is necessary to see truth.  To be virtuous, it is more important to unearth truth than it is to live with a soothing lie.  In the end, a soothing lie will give way to an unsettling truth.  When I already know the unsettling truth, I am free to love and be loved in an authentic way, rather than a make-believe one.

So, yes I moderate my love…a Stoic can do no different.

(Philadelphia panorama by Durrock Knox September 9th 2012 through creative commons)

The Impact of Family (LIM Part 5)


In that last post, I listed a few of the “indifferents” that I thought were clearly ones that I can be dispassionate about.   But there are some “indifferents” that I might have some trouble having a detached perspective about.

The first of these is family.  How can family be an indifferent?  Historically, I have based a large portion of my happiness on my family.  I love my wife deeply, she completes me.  My children are my pride and joy.  I owe my parents so much because of their guidance and their giving to me.  My family is a positive in my life, not an “indifferent!”  But isn’t that positive influence on my morale, my well being, and my life the very reason why I need to remember that they have little to do with my virtue, my excellence?

The Hatfield Family…Don’t they look happy?

Actually, there are three major reasons that family is placed squarely in the indifferent column.

Reason #1 is that the concept of family can never live up to the reality.  That unabashed positive family image is straight out of a Pleasantville Utopia (I really did enjoy the movie Pleasantville, by the way).  A great number of people have problems with their family.  They think they are not loved like they should be by family members.  They are disrespected by their children, and cheated on by their spouse, or beaten by their father.  Most of us expect our family to be pleasant to us…just because they are family.  You expect your wife to be in the mood for sex when you are, or at least at the same rate as you are (e.g. every other day vs.once every two weeks).  Your parents are intrusive in your life.  Your children NEVER listen to you.  Many expect family to be a perfect refuge from the rest of the world, but isn’t that an unrealistic expectation?  Eventually, your family will disappoint you.  This is not a negative statement about family, it is just the cold hard facts.  The world around you, including your family, is not here to please you all the time.  Your fellow human beings, including your family (and no matter how noble they may be), will err, they will sin, and sometimes they might just outright betray.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many, many joys to be had from family.  I am very fortunate to have the family I have.  So, if you are fortunate to have a family like mine, with such an overwhelmingly positive effect on your life, you still cannot escape the second and third reason that keeps family in the “indifferent” column of a Stoic philosophy.

Reason #2 is suffering:  Your family will suffer.  Some of them may suffer more than you, and some of them will suffer through your suffering.  Your own struggles are one thing, but through your family, you will live theirs.  They will get sick, they will be betrayed, stolen from, attacked, etc.  For every family member, there is an emotional clone of you out there waiting to be tortured or tried.

Reason #3 is impermanence.  In the end, every member of your family will part from you.  Some of them will move away forever.  Some of them will die before you.  On the day of your death, you will part them all, and your parting will most likely make all of them sad, even if they hated you throughout your life.

So what is a Heroic Stoic to do?  Is it all just a waste of time, an illusion, this family thing?  As for me, I am aware that I cannot control my family.  Giving birth to my children gives me know guarantee that they will respect my wishes.  Marrying a wife guarantees me no love in return…the choice to love me, to please me, etc. is hers alone (as well as the choice to leave me, give up on me, etc.).  My parents will someday be gone.  My brother, my children, anyone in my family may be gone in the next minute.  Being aware of this makes me a better man, a more tolerant husband, father, son, or brother.

I owe my family my service, adoration, and love, and they allow me the opportunity to improve myself by hopefully offering them an example, and knowing that the joys of their presence can be gone in an instant allows me to enjoy them all the more.

…and thus Stoic Joy through awareness and moderation.

Living in Moderation (LIM) Part 4 – The 3 “Knows”


So, to have tranquility, I need to be aware of three things about the “indifferents” of my life:

  1. Know what they are
  2. Know that they are impermanent
  3. Know that pursuit of them will not bring me happiness

So, let’s figure out #1.  OK, so what are the “indifferents?”  For me, here are some easy ones:

  1. Wealth
  2. Status/Reputation
  3. Health
  4. Survival or mere life
  5. Physical Appearance
  6. Popularity
  7. Talent/Ability

Joe Theismann: had lots of talent…then he suffered a career ending injury.
CLICK PHOTO to see the top 25 Career Ending Injuries

I’m sure there are many more I can add to this list.  All of these things listed are nice to have.  However, every single one of them is largely out of my control and have no guarantee of being around tomorrow.  I can appreciate them when I have them, and certainly can maintain them as best I can, but I shouldn’t obsess over them.





Living in Moderation Part 3 (Enter Zeno)


To truly experience something, is to know whether it is right or not.  Many a soldier has gone into a war waving their flag for king and country.  Then, they experience the brutality, the insanity of killing, maiming, and butchering others…all for the sake of some far off ideology they only marginally understand.  All warfighters come back different.  They don’t all come back peace-niks (like me), but they all come back different.

And so it goes with living a purposefully deprived life, like a Cynic would.  Theoretically, asceticism (see Part 1) sounds like a good idea.  Isolate yourself completely from worldly temptations and pleasures, and you can focus on living a virtuous life.  However, to experience asceticism is another thing altogether.  Thus, it must have happened to Zeno of Citium, the original Stoic.

Zeno! (Actually it’s only a model)

Right around 300 BC, as the story goes, Zeno ended up in Athens as a result of a shipwreck.  Zeno had previous knowledge of philosophy because of books that he had read, so when he ended up by this precarious accident to be in Athens…Home of Philosophy!…he asked around to find where great philosophers like Socrates could be found.  As luck would have it, Crates (a Cynic, remember from Part 2?), found him instead and took him on as a pupil.  Crates passed on to Zeno that the goal of a good life was to live with virtue and excellence.

But somewhere along the line, Zeno was unconvinced that a life of deprivation was necessary for virtue.  He considered the pleasures of life that the Cynics rejected as “indifferents.”  In other words, while these things were not beneficial in living a good life, they were not necessarily bad either.  Incidentally, this consideration of “indifferents” became a cornerstone of Stoic ethics.

In other words, a person could enjoy the “indifferents” as long as she does so in moderation, and that she is aware, that indeed these things are indifferent…that worldly pleasures of wealth, power, prestige, and indulgence are not helpful to you in attaining virtue and excellence.  This awareness, I think is what gives the Stoics their modern image as being emotionless and indifferent to the world around them, I suppose.

In a sense, this indifferent Stoic image is true, but not in the simple way that is commonly thought of.

(Zeno photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)