The Daily Stoic: January 5, 2021

Filed in PhilosophyTags: Clarity, Daily Stoic, Perception, Seneca

Reflections on The Daily Stoic:

  • The Discipline of Perception
  • January's Theme: Clarity
  • Topic: Clarify Your Intentions
  • Stoic: Seneca

Today's quote:

Let all your efforts be directed to something, let it keep that end in view. It's not activity that disturbs people, but false conceptions of things that drive them mad.

- On Tranquility of Mind, 12.5

I tend to be a rather deliberate person. Rarely will I make an arbitrary decision or take an arbitrary action; everything I do has a purpose. Yes; this attribute can be maddening to others, to whom it evinces anal retentiveness (perhaps only a few degrees separated from OCD, depending on whom you ask). But to me, it merely means that I am always acting toward some objective or goal - however big or small it may be. I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in junior high, and started reading books on fatherhood and leadership around the same time.

I don't consider myself to be a particularly driven person, at least insofar as such drive is conventionally understood, toward wealth, fame, etc. I would like to think that my goals are more closely aligned with my own sphere of influence and with God's purpose for my life. Being remembered as a loving husband and father who loved God, worked hard, and provided well for his family will be more than enough of an epitaph for me.

That said, I do think that we are called to live life with purpose. Indeed, one of the 7 Habits, as referenced by The Daily Stoic, is "begin with the end in mind." As Robin Williams so memorably encourages his students in Dead Poets Society, referencing Robert Herrick's To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
  Old time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
  Tomorrow will be dying

The Dead Poets, of which Mr. Keating was a member while a student at Welton, took Henry David Thoreau's introduction to Walden as their mantra (and literal calling to go into the woods) to live deliberately: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life..."

The stoics called this concept - the end or goal of stoic ethics - eudaimonia, roughly translated as "happiness" or "flourishing", and by which they meant "living in harmony with nature" through living a morally virtuous life.

To quote Mr. Keating: "The Latin term for that sentiment is Carpe Diem... seize the day. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Why does the writer use these lines? ...Because we are food for worms, lads. Because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold, and die."

Morbid? Perhaps. But also biblical: "A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart." (Ecclesiastes 7:1-2) "Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment..." (Hebrews 9:27)

What was Mr. Keating's point? "Carpe diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary."

As Christians, we are called to seize the day, to make the most of our opportunities, and to live life to the fullest in the furtherance of the kingdom of God. "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring." (Proverbs 27:1) "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:34) "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity..." (Ephesians 5:15-16) "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:12-14) "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." (I Corinthians 9:24-27)