It’s About Exercises, Not Idle Speculation

It’s interesting to think that Cato, one of the most famous Stoics, never wrote anything down. Yet he was still considered a philosopher—a great one in fact. You could argue that he was great because he didn’t spend time pondering silly questions or memorizing quotation, but instead channeled all that energy into doingthe philosophy. Living it. Practicing it. Exercising it.

What the Stoics offered Cato was not idle speculation, but a way of being, a simple and ready-made life. Stoicism had given Cato exercises that could be put to use the day they were learned. He learned how to subsist on a poor man’s food or no food at all, how to go barefoot and bareheaded in rain and heat. He learned how to endure sickness in silence, how to speak bluntly and how to shut up, how to meditate on disaster and suffer the imagined loss of everything again and again. How to forget getting hit in a scuffle and to be indifferent to whether the person apologized for it or not. It taught him how to endure laughter and abuse, to teach him to harden himself by seeking it out—to teach him “to be ashamed only of what was really shameful.”

That’s also what Marcus Aurelius was referring to when he said “Waste no more time arguing what a good man is like. Be one.” The philosophy we’re talking about here isn’t designed for stimulating conversations or speculation. It’s designed fordoing. Right now.