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Practical Stoicism

I am not a true stoic. I am a modern stoic. I came to that long before I knew what stoicism was. Let me explain how that happened.

I frequently use the phrase, “it is, what it is” which is a very stoic phrase.

It is a phrase of acceptance. My mind came to that way of thought from the Serenity Prayer. It is most frequently employed by those in Alcoholics Anonymous. A plaque, similar to the one pictured, hung in my grandmother’s house.
Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference.
I read it every time I went there. At a very early age, I understood it. I did not know its origins, nor the connection to AA. I just read it, and thought about it. I believed it. It made sense to me even as a child.

Why worry about things you can’t do anything about?

It is, what it is. And it won’t become something else.
The next part of the prayer I didn’t find until many years later.
Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world As it is, not as I would have it;
Again, it strikes the concept of accepting hardships. This time though it adds that they have a purpose. Hardship, is the path to peace. It is the refiner’s fire that makes better people out of all of us when faced with the right attitude.

Two people can have the same event happen to them but have two very different experiences with that event.

This happens because no two people are alike. They view the event with different thoughts, viewpoints, histories. The concept behind being a stoic, in the modern way, is to accept that the thing has happened and you cannot change it.
In the famous stages of grief, acceptance is the final stage. We apply this to grief, but it applies to so much more.
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Imagine then, if you had a personal philosophy that allowed you to begin with acceptance.

Mind you, this is no trite acceptance. No parlor trick acceptance. It is not just saying you accept it. Rather this is true and genuine acceptance. If it weren’t, then it simply wouldn’t function the way it is intended.
The Serenity Prayer continues with a final verse. This one the most overtly religious. Though it begins with the word “God” I never really saw the plaque on my grandmother’s wall as a religious thing. I do now and understand more fully the role a higher power plays in this. But then I did not. It wasn’t that I thought, “I don’t need God, I can grant myself this serenity”. I just simply didn’t make the connection as I was very young.
Trusting that He will make all things right If I surrender to His Will; So that I may be reasonably happy in this life And supremely happy with Him Forever and ever in the next. Amen.

Even here the concept is one of acceptance. Accepting God’s will.

And note the phrase, “reasonably happy”. Very stoic! Very real. That, perhaps, is the essence of Stoicism, it is grounded in reality. Somethings just are. One is not to be happy ALL THE TIME. That is not the expectation of life. One is to be reasonably happy.
I often look at those who suffer from gender dysphoria, hear the things they say, and wish they understood the reality of their situation. A hundred thousand dollars worth of surgery doesn’t change reality. It doesn’t make you live as your true self. If they really were to live their true self they would take the stoic’s path and accept things.
They would know, “I am a man. I do not feel like I am a man. But I am a man. I may always not feel like a man. I feel like a woman instead. But I am not a woman.” And life is a life lived in the reality of that thinking. Once accepted a person can move on. Anything else requires the person to avoid reality for the rest of their lives.

It is the most deep form of honesty to be honest with oneself.

It is so much easier to lie to yourself than it is to lie to others. You don’t look yourself in the eye. You don’t worry about shifting in your seat, or sweating, or laughing awkwardly. You just tell the lie. Most often you don’t even decide to tell it, or decide to believe it. It just happens.
Being a stoic does not mean you won’t have sadness, or trials, or anger. It is a way of facing and sorting these things when they happen. Do not expect to become a stoic and all sadness goes from your life.

Sore trials will come upon you.

I recently listened to a sermon given by Neil L. Andersen who is a member of the LDS faith. In it he said something very stoic.
“By definition, trials will be trying. There may be anguish, confusion, sleepless nights, and pillows wet with tears. But our trials need not be spiritually fatal.”
So often people allow their trials to win. Rather than allow those trials to refine them and make them better, they succumb to them and their entire being is tainted by that failure.
Imagine if you had the wisdom and courage to serenely accept reality? Actually, take a moment and imagine it. What would it be like for you? What you think it would be like for those in the world today?
The appeal of modern stoicism is that it gives a path for people to find that wisdom and serenity needed for personal acceptance. Once we accept that a thing is, we can move on from it. Just like the stages of grief. You can wallow in anger or depression, but until you pass through those into acceptance you just are stuck.
God grant me the serenity To accept that it is – what it is.
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