The Lost Art of Stoicism
Having a few extra years of experience gives great clarity to life. We know that sometimes it is only in the depths of great difficulty that we get to make the small decisions that determine whether we rise or fall.
It is a fact that men often strive to be stoic, which they interpret to be enduring pain or hardship without complaint and as much as possible without the display of feelings. Many are taught this by their fathers – sometimes explicitly and sometimes by example, but many others need to teach themselves from whatever resource is available. Sometimes there is none. And so the true benefits and advantages of stoicism are not understood, in some cases are adapted negatively, to the detriment of men and society.
Stoicism does not mean standing silently while the world crumbles, or pushing through pain. It is a 2000 year old philosophy which advocates cultivation of four virtues: courage, self-control, justice, and wisdom. It teaches that there are things we can control and things we cannot. It embraces brotherhood and community, and it embraces the wise and just cultivation and discharging of strength. It does not imagine a man without courage, who lacks self control, who ignorantly abuses his power or has no sense of justice. And it deals impatiently with those that fail. So we have some sympathy with it here at Old Man Strength.
Many things can’t change in this world. You are not one of them.
To be “stoic” does not mean to be indifferent to pain. It means to approach pain and struggle with wisdom and reason, to find its true cause and then to deal with that through logic, reflection and concentration. It says to pause at that moment of reaction, and to find an inner strength, to view a situation with the correct eye. Once that has been done, however, it is time to push. It does not reward or encourage taking a back step. As Seneca also said “a gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials”.
To be stoic means to accept that of all the things in the world that cannot be changed, you are not one of them. You can be braver. You can be stronger. You can drop those pounds, get started and change your life. As Marcus Aurelius said “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment”.
Imagine a boxing, lifting, grappling or crossfit competition. The outcome of the contest is under your partial control, in that you can influence it, but it is also the result of factors outside your control. The technique and cardio of your opponent, the grass, fabric or canvass under your feet, or the flash of sunlight that obscures your vision for a second. Your only mission, the driving force of the moment cannot be to win, because this is an outcome that you don’t control. To be stoic means you understand that the only thing you can control at that point and the months before it, is you, and that at that point you must be the best possible version of yourself. You must be in peak physical condition, control your fear, you must be on point, you just react quickly and you must control every factor that is yours to control.
By internalising these goals, it becomes clearer. We can focus on them, we can defeat the demons within us, and we can be the best possible versions of ourselves. Our competitors? Irrelevant. The result? It doesn’t matter. A loss when you’ve brought your best is better than a win when you didn’t. It is why the principles of shame, which focus totally on ourselves, are more powerful in building strong men than the emotion of guilt, which is for others. We have one person to rise to and to live up to, and that is the best version of ourselves.
Being old and strong provides this wisdom to us, either through being taught or being motivated through the school of life and adversity. It is how character and integrity are forged. It is the lifeblood of our community of strong old men. Join us.