The ancient philosophy of stoicism has been speaking to me lately. I've been reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and a book called The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. The stoics included the likes of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca, among others, and they framed their philosophy along three disciplines:
1. Discipline of Perception: by controlling our perceptions, we find clarity.
2. Discipline of Action: by controlling our actions, we find effectiveness in our daily actions
3. Discipline of Will: by controlling our will, we find wisdom to deal with what the world throws at us
The growth of these disciplines allow for humanity to find resilience, purpose and joy. Three things seemingly missing from too many people’s lives.
On the discipline of perception, number one: My old friend Charlie Lonergan, many people here will remember him, used to always say, “Perception is reality.”
People are going to think what they want…let them. You can’t control someone else's perception of you, it’s a losing game, though you can control your own perceptions. Let them lose, let them lose themselves in their own fantasy of what they want you to be. A rebel, an angel, a romantic, an athlete, a child, an adult, a peacemaker, an achiever, a reformer, an individualist. Perhaps you are one of these things, or several of these, but maybe you’re none of them, maybe you’re something else altogether. It’s for you to know and for you to use to become who and what you truly are in the deep recesses of your soul that are only just now starting to emerge. This is truly your commencement, a new beginning.
On the discipline of action, number two: Choices you make every single day can change the trajectory of your life forever. Will you choose to stay the same or dare to see what’s possible?
I suggest that you dare to see what’s possible. I read a school motto recently that seemed apropos: “There is more in you.” What does that mean “There is more in you?” It means you are capable of more than perhaps even you realize. So then the question becomes, “how do you find out?” That’s the trick, you have to dare to see what’s possible. Only you can find the answers and they exist out there on that edge I spoke of earlier, that edge that fires your passions.
I’ll leave you with some simple words on the discipline of will, number three, that even the slow erosion of time has not been able to erase. You all may well be asking yourselves what exactly has been the point of all this education and all these teachings over the course of these last four years. If you aren’t asking yourself that, you will as your mind grows more critical of the world around you. When you ask those questions I ask that you recall the following which I offer as an answer. This is from Epictetus’ Discourses and in applying this wisdom you may indeed find your passions:
What is the fruit of these teachings? [Well the fruit of these teachings is] Only the most beautiful and proper harvest of the truly educated – [which means the fruit of these teachings are] tranquility, fearlessness, and freedom. We should not trust the masses who say only the free can be educated, [we should trust] but rather the lovers of wisdom who say that only the educated are [truly] free.
Defy defeatism. Don’t take the easy way. I paraphrase Dag Hammarskjold here, the former Secretary General of the United Nations. We live in a time of relative peace that is not altogether peaceful, and in a time of technical advancements that threaten to destroy the very society they claim to help protect. Defy defeatism, do not readily accept defeat in your lives. Continue to change and evolve your thinking, continue to allow the juxtaposition of two opposing thoughts to live in your head. Our country as it is wont to do, in fact as all societies over the course of history are wont to do, has launched into one these historic and periodic spasms or paroxysms of divisiveness. It is incumbent on all of you to see opportunities where others might see defeat.
Now go and fall in love with your education and your passions and your perspectives and don’t be afraid to change them all when you need to.
Links to the books mentioned above: