It’s All On Slippery Footing

Watching the news, we see stories of bankruptcy, this or that industry disrupted by new technologies, stories of people in the wrong place at the wrong time. Most of the time, what is our reaction? Our mind searches for ways to make it that person’s fault. They spent too much. They were too complacent. Serves them right for doing that in the first place.

What don’t we like to think about? How easily that could be us.

“So many rich men are stricken before our eyes with sudden poverty,” Seneca writes, “yet it never occurs to us that our own wealth also rests on just as slippery a footing.” Think about Seneca’s own life: How many other prominent Romans had he seen exiled by capricious rulers? How many had he read about in history? And yet, when it happened to him, he was shocked and disappointed. He wasn’t ready. He family wasn’t either.

It’s easier said than done, of course, that we should remember that everything we own is on slippery footing. Marcus Aurelius liked to say that our possessions were on loan. We can’t forget that the repo man (or according to the Stoics, a woman named Fortune) can come and take them back at any time.

It’s hard to do, hard to practice, but it’s essential.