Near the end of the Eisenhower Administration, the speechwriter James C. Humes was asked to help the president write a short address. After submitting a draft, Humes was called to Eisenhower’s office to discuss. As soon as he stepped into the room, he could tell that Eisenhower had a problem with what he’d written.
“What’s the QED* of this speech?” Eisenhower said to him with only a little patience.
Humes was confused. “QED,” he said, “what’s that?”
“Quod Erat Demonstrandum,” Eisenhower barked. “Don’t you remember your geometry? What’s the bottom line? In one sentence!”
Eisenhower was a brilliant man, but a simple and a straightforward one after years in the Army. He didn’t have time to beat around the bush and so he didn’t put up with rambling or equivocation. He wanted his speeches to have a point and he wanted everyone who worked for him to know the message.
This is a good lesson for anyone and everyone when it comes to communication. (You may remember our earlier email: If It’s Not Simple, It’s Bullshit). Don’t dress things up more than they need to be. Don’t hedge. Don’t distract. Be blunt. Tell the truth. Speak plainly.
But what if we had to apply Eisenhower’s test to Stoicism itself? What’s the QED of this philosophy we’re studying? Well, that’s good for everyone to think about today. Can you describe Stoicism in a sentence?* Could you actually offer a good definition if somebody asked you about it? Spend some time thinking about that.
Even better, don’t just ponder what Stoicism is about, what are you about? What defines you? What do you stand for? What’s your bottom line? In one sentence!
*Here’s our QED for Stoicism: A Stoic believes they don’t control the world around them, only how they respond–and that they must always respond with courage, temperance, wisdom, and justice.