The Question To Ask Yourself With Everything You Read

From both Seneca and Marcus we see a fairly remarkable admonition: Stop reading. Throw away your books, Marcus says to himself. Seneca tells Lucilius to stop chasing new titles and gorging himself on new books. For philosophers, this seems like strange advice. Isn’t the whole point of the pursuit of wisdom to read as much as you can?

Not to the Stoic it isn’t. Because to the Stoic, anything done to excess is a vice, and that includes the consuming of books. Seneca and Marcus didn’t have newspapers and blogs, but they would have put them under the same category. Reading wasn’t something to be done for its own sake—or to appear informed or wise—but to actually create real wisdom. It was designed to make us better. Practically. Immediately.

So today when you feel yourself picking up your phone to scan the headlines on MSNBC or Drudge Report, stop. Same goes for the impulse to pull up Audible and listen to another audiobook on 2x speed. Unless you can complete this sentence: This information will make me better because __________, don’t bother. Before you feel stupid for not being familiar with some obscure French thinker all your friends are talking about, ask: Would there be something you could do with their theories? Would it matter in your life? If the answer to any of this is “No!” then don’t feel guilty about skipping it.

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