By Engr. Carlos V. Cornejo

Stoicism is a Greek philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in the 3rd century.  It is a philosophy that has made a comeback in our modern era because it famously advocates for calmness and serenity in times of adversity.  Dozens of books have come out these days promoting this philosophy: “The Daily Stoic”, “How to be a Stoic”, “Stillness is the Key”, “Stoicism and The Art of Happiness”, “Ego is the Enemy”, etc.  We are in a time and age when people are the most anxious, the most stressed and the most bored, even if we have all the technologies available to entertain us and we are supposed to have more knowledge than the previous generations.  It is said that the ancient era is the most emotionally strong, and the modern era as the most emotionally weak and fragile.  That’s why we should go backwards in our knowledge and learn from the ancient ones.

The Philosophy of Stoicism teaches us to regulate our emotions so as not to get angry, feel fear and always remain calm in times of adversity.  It is good at maintaining serenity at difficult times but it also wants to regulate happy times.  You are not supposed to laugh too much or be too happy because you could disturb your emotional balance of controlling your emotion later on during bad times.  The emphasis is to regulate all emotions.  We are not supposed to get carried away by any emotion whether it’s positive or negative.  It is similar to the teachings of Buddhism which is the repression of desire so as not to get frustrated.  Buddhism teaches that frustration comes from desire.  If you don’t want to get frustrated then kill your desires.  Don’t desire wealth, honor, power or pleasure because even if you will have all these, you will get bored with them later on anyway. If you don’t aspire for these things then you will not get frustrated.  Buddhists aspire for the highest state of calmness called “Nirvana” which is “becoming extinguished” that refers to the extinction of desire, hatred, ignorance and ultimately suffering.  Sounds reasonable and convincing but the only problem is you also kill the desire for joy and happiness.

Dr. Peter Kreeft would say Buddhism and Stoicism is spiritual euthanasia.  You kill the disease (pain and suffering) by killing the patient (our desires).  But it’s part of our nature as humans to have desires.  We naturally desire for money, things, honor and pleasure. Christian teachings tell us however that we should desire them and use them in a proper way.  We should not make them as the most important things in our lives or make them as the ultimate source of happiness (that position belongs to God).  We are to use them as they are intended by God.  With money for example, we need it to provide for our basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, education, transportation, health, etc.  The wrong way of pursuing wealth is when we try to enrich ourselves without sharing that wealth to others or when our lives get too preoccupied trying to acquire it, with no more time for family, God and others.   Worse is when we cheat or resort to illegal means such as graft and corruption to obtain it.  Honor can be used to help others by using that position and power as a public official to really serve the people that has elected you.  Pleasure can be a means of rest and relaxation, so that we would have the energy to go back to our daily occupations trying to earn a living.

Power, pleasure, money and honor are not evil in themselves but only when we abuse them instead of using them.  The key is to practice the virtues in relation to these things in life.  With power and fame, we should moderate their use through humility and service to others.  With wealth, we moderate our desire for it through the virtues of detachment and generosity towards others especially for people who have less in life.   And lastly with pleasure, we should apply the virtue of temperance which is regulating our appetite for food, drinks, as well as to rest and relaxation.


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