You think this hasn’t happened before? Whatever it is, whatever you’re freaking out about?
A crisis at the borders. Agitators riling up the youth. Excess and immorality. Rising demagogues. Distrust in institutions. A backlash against free speech and expression.
It’s scary because it seems new—like things are breaking down, right? Except it’s not remotely new. Each one of those things was happening during Marcus Aurelius’s reign. They were happening during Seneca’s time. They were happening a hundred years ago. They were happening back in America while James Stockdale was locked away as a POW in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
What the Stoics want us to see is the big picture. All of this has happened before, Marcus wrote to himself. It happened before and it is happening now and it will happen again. Zoom out, he says, look at this from space, not with your ear to the ground. See how small it really is.
Look back through the pages of history, the Stoics urge us. You’ll find that most of the things people were worried about never came to pass. The trends peter out. The revolution loses its force. Sanity is restored. You’ll find that the things they should have been concerned about, they totally missed. You’ll find people who were so focused on the trends and the symptoms of problems that they lost opportunities to address the root causes.
And most of all, you’ll find that none of us are around long enough to waste any time on worry anyway. So relax. See the big picture. Focus on what you control. Change what you can. Make a difference where you can. Let go and keep going.
P.S. This was originally sent on January 27, 2020. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.