Judge Yourself, Not Other People

It’s easy to think that Stoicism is about judging other people. Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus talk critically about their fellow men quite a bit. In one passage, Marcus says, “Robbers, perverts, killers and tyrants—gather for your inspection their so-called pleasures!” This a good exercise but it can also lead to a sense of moral superiority. That is not what Stoicism is about.

As you look around and see the ways that people are jerked around by their impulses, the way they do selfish or shortsighted things, or even the false beliefs they hold, make sure you are only doing that as an exercise in empathy and understanding. That you are seeing where they have gone wrong or been misled, so you can do better and avoid their fate. Not so you can judge them or dismiss them.

One must always remember, as Lincoln put it about the South, that “they are just what we would be in their situation.” When you see other people’s weaknesses, use it as a rubric to judge and improve yourself. Not as a method for condemning or mocking.