The Stoics believed that a life well lived was one which always countered adversity with virtue. And they believed in four aspects of virtue: courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom. Each and every situation calls for one or more of these four Stoic virtues, and nothing in life exempts us from their power.
Today, we begin with one of the most important: Courage.
If you’ve read Cormac McCarthy’s dark and beautiful novel All the Pretty Horses, you’ll remember the key question that Emilio Perez asks John Grady, one that cuts to the core of life and what we all must do to live a life worth living.
“The world wants to know if you have cojones. If you are brave?”
The Stoics might have phrased this a bit differently. Seneca would say that he actually pitied people who have never experienced misfortune. “You have passed through life without an opponent,” he said, “No one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.”
The world wants to know what category to put you in, which is why it will occasionally send difficult situations your way. Think of these not as inconveniences or even tragedies but as opportunities, as questions to answers. Do I have cojones? Am I brave? Am I going to face this problem or run away from it? Will I stand up or be rolled over?
Let your actions etch a response into the record—and let them remind you of why courage is the most important thing.
P.S. This was originally sent on March 3, 2020. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.