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THE WAY TO LIVE_DOT II (YOURSELF) // CHAPTER 9
We have explored the first part of the journey, knowing God, but what does it mean to know ourselves? This is part two of our journey. The philosophers found themselves with a piece, but only a piece. They learned to know themselves but didn’t yet know God. For the next few chapters, let’s explore what it means for us to know ourselves according to ancient philosophy.
Arguably, the largest and most influential school of philosophy to come out of Greece and spread around the world was Stoicism. It became the dominant school of thought in the Roman Empire. Much of the audience of the New Testament is well versed in Stoic philosophy. Stoicism is the backdrop of the New Testament.
Most often, in the modern world, when we hear the word stoic, we think of a lack of emotion or feeling. While the Stoics believed that the control of one’s emotions was important, the term stoic originates from the place that the Stoics met—a stoa. In ancient Greek architecture, a stoa was a covered walkway common for public use. It was under a stoa that the first Stoics gathered.
The components of Stoicism are simple to understand. In fact, much of Stoic philosophy has become common and popular wisdom.
First, you are only responsible for yourself. You cannot control the world, or other people, only yourself. Therefore, your only focus should be on maintaining control of three things: your thoughts, your attitudes and your actions. Everything outside of your control is not worth your effort, time, energy or anxiety. Only focus on what you can personally control.
Sound familiar? Let’s revisit dots, lines and triangles.
Think of your life as a triangle. The way you build the triangle is through what you know about God, yourself and the role you decide to play. What lies outside of the triangle is all the things that you can’t control. What lies inside of the triangle is all the things that you can control. Your thinking, your attitudes and your actions.
Second, the only way to find any happiness or success is to decide what you value and strive to live those values. The Stoics had four virtues: courage, temperance, justice and wisdom. The only thing that matters at the end of your life is living your virtues, following your true north. Live out your virtues and let the chips fall where they may.
Third, everything outside of your control is not random. It’s all part of the plan. There is intelligent design, reason and logic that governs the entire universe. This reasoning, or logos (λόγος), is what separates God, who controls the uncontrollable and creates the plan of the universe, from humanity. The logos is inherently good and should be trusted. God is also the creator of virtue. When we seek to live by virtue, we participate in God’s plan for our lives.
To the Stoics, these concepts are easy to understand but difficult to live out. How you live is what matters. Not what you think. You will face adversity and setbacks, and your philosophy is lived out in how you handle those things. A student should learn from a philosopher’s life just as much (if not more) as they learn from their teaching.
These three basic concepts form the basis for Stoicism. A philosophy that is simple to understand and demanding to live out. It is just as tough today as it was two thousand years ago. We will explore Stoicism more in the following chapters.
The teaching of philosophy was not centered on classroom instruction but lived experience. Throughout the Roman Empire, parents would send their children to academies: schools of philosophy. Not to learn about reading, writing and arithmetic, but to learn how to live. For generations, these children would become parents and send their own children to these same schools of philosophy. All with the goal of teaching the next generation how to confront the problems they would face.
The rise of philosophy affected everything that came after it. It continues to affect our lives in many ways today. Even though God was silent for four hundred years, generations of people learned to live meaningful lives. Again, this is just one piece.