The Stoic Guide to Election Stress

In this time of stress and turbulence, try these words of wisdom from the Stoic titans.

We are days from the 2020 presidential election, and stress and anxiety is at an all-time high.

In a survey released by the American Psychological Association this month, 68% of Americans said the election is a significant source of stress.

And perhaps more than ever in our lifetime, it feels like the process is challenging the decency of many, and the faith and trust we hold in the few who run our institutions.

So at this time of stress, we’d like to draw your attention to the wisdom of Stoic philosophy. Stoicism was followed by the political leaders of Rome — including Seneca, Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus, whose wisdom we share below

These were men who were engaged in lifelong studies of politics and leadership, who were less distracted by the noise and ambush of contemporary life, but instead were driven by a desire to control their emotions, understand both sides of an argument, and ultimately become masters of their own reactions and temperament.

And while central to the Stoic philosophy was acceptance of what was beyond their control, this was not at the expense of taking action to create positive change.

The four cardinal virtues of Stoicism are wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice.

Wisdom is subdivided into good sense, good calculation, quick wittedness, discretion, and resourcefulness.

Courage is subdivided into endurance, confidence, high mindedness, cheerfulness and industriousness.

Temperance is subdivided into good discipline, seemliness, modesty, and self control.

Justice is subdivided into piety, honesty, equity, and fair dealing.

Many of the most moving stories we associate with Stoicism come out of the worst elements of humanity: slavery, warfare, torture, imprisonment. In all these cases, the environment proved to be a testing ground for a philosophy that is, in part, about being tested.

So here are six choice statements from these Stoic titans that may help get us through the election and beyond.

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals, not under my control, and which have to do with the choice I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own.” -Epictetus

“Caretake this moment. Immerse yourself in its particulars. Respond to this person or that person, this challenge, this deed. Quit the evasion, stop giving yourself needless trouble. It is time to really live; to inhabit the situation you happen to be in right now. You are not some disinterested bystander. Participate. Exert yourself.” -Epictetus

“It is likely that some troubles will befall us; but it is not a present fact. How often has the unexpected happened! How often has the expected never come to pass! And even though it is ordained to be, what does it avail to run out to meet your suffering?…Perhaps it will come, perhaps not; in the meantime it is not. So look forward to better things.” -Seneca

“The first step: Don’t be anxious… The second step: Concentrate on what you have to do. Fix your eyes on it. Remind yourself that your task is to be a good human being; remind yourself what nature demands of people. Then do it, without hesitation, and speak the truth as you see it. But with kindness. With humility. Without hypocrisy.” -Marcus Aurelius

“All you need are these: certainty of judgment in the present moment; action for the common good in the present moment; and an attitude of gratitude in the present moment for anything that comes your way. “ -Marcus Aurelius

“He who follows reason in all things is both tranquil and active at the same time, and also cheerful and collected.” -Marcus Aurelius


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