Courage. Temperance. Justice. These are the critical virtues of life. But what situations call for courage? What is the right amount? What is the right thing? This is where the final and essential virtue comes in: Wisdom. The knowing. The learning. The experience required to navigate the world.
Wisdom has always been prized by the Stoics. Zeno said that we were given two ears and one mouth for a reason: to listen more than we talk. And since we have two eyes, we are obligated to read and observe more than we talk as well.
It is key today, as it was in the ancient world, to be able to distinguish between the vast aggregations of information that lay out there at your disposal—and the actual wisdom that you need to live a good life. It’s key that we study, that we keep our minds open always. You cannot learn that which you think you already know, Epictetus said. It’s true.
Which is why we need to not only be humble students but also seek out great teachers. It’s why we should always be reading. It’s why we cannot stop training. It’s why we have to be diligent in filtering out the signal from the noise.
Our goal is not just to acquire information, but the right kind of information. It’s the lessons found in Meditations, in everything from the actual Epictetus to James Stockdale entering the world of Epictetus. It’s the key facts, standing out from the background noise, that you need to absorb.
Thousands of years of blazing insight are available to the world. It is likely that you have the power to learn anything you want at your fingertips. So today, honor the Stoic virtue of wisdom by slowing down, being deliberate, and finding the wisdom you need.
Two eyes, two ears, one mouth. Remain a student. Act accordingly—and wisely.
Keep the four Stoic virtues in mind—courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom. The fact is, they are all important, and you can’t neglect any one of them in trying to live virtuously. Study how best to embody each one as is called for, and you’ll be making good progress.
When you find yourself wondering what the right course of action is, pick the options that are most in accordance with the virtuous path they mark. It’s how you live successfully and happily.
P.S. This was originally sent on March 6, 2020. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.