There has always been an odd streak in the Stoics. Zeno used to practice begging people for money, even though he had plenty. Cleanthes worked as a manual laborer for so long, some in Athens thought it might be a front for something. Cato used to walk around bareheaded and barefooted, wearing dingy clothing. Seneca was completely unafraid both of regularly practicing poverty (despite his wealth) and unafraid of showing his wealth (despite his reputation as a Stoic). He also experimented with vegetarianism at a time when it was deeply transgressive in Rome. And can you imagine the scene Marcus Aurelius created when he would write and read philosophy while the gladiatorial games raged on beneath his box seats in the coliseum?
The Stoics were not afraid to be themselves, to be seen as weird. In fact, that’s something Epictetus said: If you want to improve, if you want to achieve wisdom, you have to be OK looking strange or even clueless from time to time. Epictetus also tells us the story of Agrippinus, who refused to keep a low profile during Nero’s reign, who refused to conform or tamp down his independent thinking. Why do this, Agrippinus was asked, why not be like the rest of us?
Because you consider yourself to be only one thread of those which are in the tunic. Well then it was fitting for you to take care how you should be like the rest of men, just as the thread has no design to be anything superior to the other threads. But I wish to be purple, that small part which is bright, and makes all the rest appear graceful and beautiful. Why then do you tell me to make myself like the many? and if I do, how shall I still be purple?
Beautifully said. And a reminder to all of us today. Embrace who you really are, embrace what makes you unique. Let your freak flag fly—because chances are it’s special. Shine on you crazy diamond. Be purple. Be the small part that makes the rest bright.
We desperately need you to do that.