Stoicism and Surviving Our Age of Volatility

Advice from the quiet past, relevant to our stormy present.

Steven Yates

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Photo by Bruno Aguirre on Unsplash

Stoicism reduces to a few suggestions: easy to write, difficult to practice.

(1) Determine to be calm. (2) Observe what is happening around you. (3) Focus on what you can control. (4) Do the right thing.

“The first rule,” advises Marcus Aurelius, “is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”

The challenge, of course, is that the second often makes the first hard to do.

Epictetus, though, reminds us, “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of things.”

It’s not about not having emotions, or approaching the world emotionlessly, like a robot. It’s about keeping your emotions in check, so that you’ll be more apt to pause long enough to distinguish what you can control from what you can’t.

Zeno of Citium, Stoicism’s founder, told us, “Man conquers the world by conquering himself.”

Remember to distinguish your world from the world. The world may be a mess. But your world doesn’t have to be.

We live in an Age of Volatility. That’s the best term I’ve run across for it recently: the real New Normal, it’s also called. It’s an age of:

  • Technological disruptions
  • Climate disruptions
  • Health concerns
  • Roaring inflation and economic fickleness
  • Geopolitical saber-rattling
  • Political divisions at home, and doubts (most of them justifiable) about our so-called leaders
  • Mass shootings

We’re seeing four basic reactions to these.

Some are taking sides and blaming the other side for everything wrong. Each tries to shout the other down. Those on each work themselves into fits of near-apoplexy. Each side overlooks the likelihood that neither has a monopoly on the truth. For all of us, our world is a world limited by our experience and that of those we identify with and trust. Some may have more truth on their side than others. But has…

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Steven Yates

I am the author of What Should Philosophy Do? A Theory. I write about philosophy (especially the Stoics), health and systems, and the future if we have one.