Not everything that glitters is gold. Just popped into my head when I was thinking about the Stoa and its philosophers. Yes, I certainly think a lot of the Stoa and their thoughts. But yes: not everything the Stoics said is ‘good and useful’. But the famous ‘Stoic calm’ -derived from some basic thoughts on how to deal with external circumstances and one’s own reaction to them-, this ‘Stoic calm’ I consider something very valuable. Sometimes, it seems to me, stoic calm is confused with indifference. However, the Stoics in no way intended their philosophy to mean indifference. An indifference towards our fellow human beings, for example. Or an indifference to what we can achieve in and with our lives. Or even an indifference towards life. No, the Stoics were exactly the opposite of indifferent.
However, in my opinion, the Stoics insisted on giving power over something to things and only to things that deserve it. Because this power is used in our sense. Because it is therefore used. And this in our sense.
What I mean by this can be well explained with a lesser known quote:
“Do not give external circumstances the power to provoke your anger, for they do not care.” Euripides
Only small parts of Euripides’ work have survived. The above statement comes from one of his plays, also not completely preserved.
With his statement above, Euripides points out to us, firstly, that external circumstances do not care at all about our feelings. It does not matter to the shoelace that has just been torn off whether we are angry about it or not. It doesn’t matter to the dog turd whether we are angry about it under our shoe or not. These things happen. No matter how we react to them and with what feelings we react to them. So why get upset about these things?
And Euripides asks us not to give these things, these external circumstances, these events, power over us. Especially no power over our feelings. External circumstances are what they are. Independent of our reactions to them. With every reaction, especially with every negative reaction, every anger, we give the external circumstances power over a small part of our lives.
Euripides speaks (only) of anger, of negative feelings, that is. Positive feelings are very important to the Stoics. Despite all rationality, the heart, positive emotions are something that the Stoics recognised as essential for life.
And Euripides speaks of things, of external circumstances that are not people. About not giving something that is not a human being power over one’s own life. Even if it is only one’s own feelings.
I didn’t understand these points at first, as I read more and more Stoics. I thought that the Stoa recommends avoiding emotions in general. And that the Stoa only grants power over one’s own life to the human being himself. No one else. No god, universe or other higher being. But this is wrong. The Stoa does recognise divine power. And it does recognise the power of positive emotions.
However, the Stoics were very concerned to free the core of things from all disturbing accessories. Meaning here: in order to recognise, for example, divine power and the power of positive emotions, one must remove everything else, i.e. identify it as untrue. External circumstances are not people or gods, so why grant them power over one’s own life – even if it is only in the form of negative emotions?