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This Is Our Duty

Daily Stoic Emails

That nice, warm feeling you have right now? That fullness? From the food you stuffed yourself with, from the wonderful meal you had with your family?

It’s important that you realize not everyone is feeling that right now. 

In fact, they may well be feeling the exact opposite. While you sit here with a Thanksgiving hangover, they’re feeling pangs of hunger. You’re wondering if you’ll ever eat again, and they are, in a very different way, thinking the same thing. 

This pandemic has not just taken hundreds of thousands of lives. It’s also wreaked enormous devastation on families, on businesses, on people who were already struggling. And now? Now they are broken. 

Nearly 1 in 8 households in the United States is experiencing food insecurity, and almost 19% of children aren’t getting enough food to eat. You might be thinking: So what? Stoicism is about focusing on what’s in my control, why should I let some slow-moving humanitarian crisis kill my sleepy tryptophan vibe?

Because, as Marcus Aurelius wrote, those suffering humans are us, and we are them. To allow harm to come to them—through indifference, through callousness—is to allow harm to come to ourselves. It’s why the most magnificent moment of Marcus’s reign was the day he decided to sell off the palace furnishings to keep Rome going—to help those in need. Hierocles was a Roman Stoic who spoke of “circles of concern.” Our first concern, he said, was our mind, but beyond this was our concern for our bodies, for our immediate family, then our extended family. Like concentric rings, these circles were followed by our concern for our community, our city, our country, our empire, our world. The work of philosophy, he said, was to draw this outer concern inward, to learn how to care as much as possible for as many people as possible, to do as much good for them as possible. 

Oikeiôsis—this was the Stoic’s affinity for our fellow human beings. It was our obligation—our duty, they said—to help them. To serve them. To illustrate those virtues of courage and justice toward and for and through them. 

So today, on a day when under ordinary circumstances people would be lining up to get a deal on a flat-screen television or gorging on leftovers while they post photos on social media, let us instead put our energy towards helping the less fortunate. The pandemic is not in our control. Government policy is at best only something we barely influence. But we can keep people from going hungry. We can alleviate someone’s worry and fear. We can put food on their table. 

Better yet, we can do this together. Daily Stoic is raising money for Feeding America. We’ve donated the first $10,000, and we’d like your help in getting to our goal of $20,000—which would provide over 200,000 meals for families across the country. Together we can make a small dent in a big problem. We can’t alleviate everyone’s suffering or struggle, but for the people we can help—the difference is huge. 

So let’s do it. Let’s be good Stoics today.

P.S. This was originally sent on November 27, 2020. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.