Epithets for Yourself

Canadian politician Jagmeet Singh may never have read a page of Stoicism—but his response to an angry protester in one of his audiences was deeply stoic. When the agitated woman came up and started shouting at him about Islam (despite the fact that he is Sikh), he refused with three words. “Love and courage.” Soon, the crowd began to chant along with him: Love and courage. Love and courage. Love and courage.

He could’ve stood there and fought with her about each one of her points. He could’ve gotten angry or offended. He could have fled the confrontation entirely. But instead he remained cool, and these two words helped him re-center in the midst of what was not only a career-on-the-line situation, but even a life threatening one.

It gives us a useful tactic: pick your two words. You know you’re going into a tough assignment—say to yourself over and over again, “strength and courage.” You’re about to have a tough conversation with a significant other: “patience and kindness.” You’re about to lead a team of people, and you’re uncertain of your own ability: “Calm and composed.”

There are many words to chose from. Marcus Aurelius has a few. He called them “epithets for the self.’ Among his were: Upright. Modest. Straightforward. Sane. Cooperative. Which will you choose? Which words will you add to the list?

In a sense, the specifics don’t matter. What matters is that you have something that short-circuits all the other words: the things people around you are saying; the chatter going on in your own head; the nonsense that’s tossed at us by the media each day. And then that you live by them, especially under pressure.

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