What Is Sympatheia? (And Why It’s So Damn Important)

In Book Six of Meditations, Marcus gives himself (and us) a command to keep an important idea in mind. “Meditate often,” he writes, “on the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe.” He is speaking of the Stoic concept of Sympatheia, the idea that “all things are mutually woven together and therefore have an affinity for each other.

Why should we think about this? What will it do?

Well according to Marcus, understanding how we are all connected and dependent on each other will prompt us to be good and do good for each other. He almost sounds like a broken record considering how much he repeats it:

“Revere the gods and look after each other.” (6.30)

 

“The universe made rational creatures for the sake of each other, with an eye toward mutual benefit based on true value and never for harm.” (9.1)

 

“Human beings have been made for the sake of one another. Teach them or endure them.” (8.59)

 

“You’ve been made by nature for the purpose of working with others.” (8.12)

This idea of Sympatheia is such an important one because it is so easy to forget. It’s just simpler to think about and care about the people immediately around you. It’s tempting to get consumed by your own problems. It’s natural to assume you have more in common and the same interests as the people who look like you or live like you do. But that is an insidious lie—one responsible for monstrous inhumanity and needless pain.

When other people suffer, we suffer. When the world suffers, we suffer. (What’s bad for the hive is bad for the bee, Marcus said). To the Stoics, we are all part of the same larger organism. We are all unified and share the same substance. We breathe the same air. We share the same hopes and dreams. We are all descended from the same long chain of evolution—and this is true no matter what race you are, no matter where you come from, or what you believe.

At Daily Stoic, we think this idea is so important that we spent the last several months developing a way to turn it into a physical reminder. Which is why today we are announcing our newest creation: the Sympatheia Medallion.

The front shows the famous 1972 “Blue Marble” earth, which instantly changed man’s perspective on himself. The image is a prompt to zoom out of your own bubble and see the world as a whole and understand the interdependence of everyone on it.

The back features Marcus’s timeless wisdom:

“Revere the gods, and look after each other. Life is short—the fruit of this life is a good character and acts for the common good.”

We created this so you can carry a reminder with you every day that you are not alone, that you are part of something bigger than yourself, that there is a greater good to which we all owe a duty above and beyond our own selfish concerns. The medallion is a prompt in your pocket, to ask yourself: Who am I? What am I doing? What is my role in the world? Are my problems really that big of a deal? Or are they pretty small in the bigger picture?

Once this has been internalized, it changes how you behave in the world—for the better. We hope you’ll check it out and we hope you can do as Marcus says, which is to meditate often on what we share with other people.

Be good to each other today!

(And learn more about the Sympatheia Medallion by clicking here)