You Have No Idea How Other People Struggle

Self-discipline is an essential element of Stoic philosophy. But self-discipline can often lend itself to judging and condemning other people. We cut sugar out of our diet and then next thing you know, we’re criticizing other people who haven’t done the same. We think that swearing is a sin and the next thing you know, we’re judging the character of someone we hear using the f-word.

There is nothing in Stoicism to justify this kind of policing of other people. Stoicism is about self-discipline, not authoritarianism. (Remember, Marcus Aurelius reminds himself to leave other people’s mistakes to their makers.) Instead, what the Stoics remind us is that we have no idea what other people are struggling with, we have no idea what their inner life is like. If we did, we would not judge.

There is a thought-provoking line from William Blake that should serve to stop this kind of superiority and comparison. “Those who restrain their desires,” he says, “do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.” It’s an interesting idea. Maybe it was easier for you to quit smoking than it is for your spouse. Maybe loyalty or fidelity come more naturally to you than other people. What evidence do you have that says otherwise?

You have no idea how other people struggle. Leave them to it. Focus on your own. Put judgement aside.