Any pursuit–be it art or philosophy or sports—can lend itself to be taken too seriously. Our sense of importance tends to inflate the more we invest in something. It’s not just that we think it’s important, we want other people to see it (and us) that way.
That’s why for every aspiring Stoic, this poem, which appeared in the New Yorker in 1942, is so great. It’s a reminder that that self-importance is not only silly, it undermines everything we’re working for.
A SHORT COURSE IN STOICISM
The stoic says the universe
Is leagued to try the sage’s virtue.
If evil smites you, look for worse,
And if it hurts you, let it hurt you.
Let Nature, with its crowd of woes,
In vain endeavor to defeat us;
Impassive, let us bear its blows
Like Seneca and Epictetus.
I met a stoic in a bar
Who argued much for resignation.
He pushed the stoic faith so far
That he proposed a demonstration.
“I’m tough,” he said, “and I defy
Fate’s angry effort to provoke me.
I’ll take a breath, and any guy Can hit me. Step right up and poke me!”
But no one present wanted much
A demonstration so heroic.
Fell circumstance refused to clutch.
I never saw a madder stoic.