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You Have The Power

Daily Stoic Emails

To the Stoics, the most important virtue was courage. A Stoic never willingly gives up the power, the belief in themselves to change their condition and to resist the control of others. That’s what Thrasea and Agrippinus clung to as they fought against Nero. That’s what George Washington did when he broke away from the king. That’s what Stockdale did in the Hanoi Hilton. That’s what we so judge Seneca for failing to do. 

In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare’s most overtly Stoic play, he puts it thusly, “So every bondman in his own hand bears the power to cancel his captivity.” What was Brutus doing in that play? He was refusing to live under Caesar’s tyranny. He and his fellow conspirators were taking, quite literally, matters into their own hands. 

Not all resistance is so violent, of course. Emmeline Pankhurst talked about withdrawing your consent to be governed. And that’s what women did in Britain. In some cases, they refused even to eat until they were given the rights they deserved. Martin Luther King talked about the power of a people who decide to straighten their backs and decide they will no longer be ridden. His boycotts and passive resistance canceled the captivity of African Americans—it was an active revocation of any consent towards segregation or the deprivation of constitutional rights.

Each individual citizen, even in a tyranny, holds incredible power. As individuals, we have agency over our own lives. And what do far too many of us do? We ignore this power. We declined to vote. We can’t be bothered to protest or stand up for what is important to us. Then we wonder why the world isn’t the way we want it to be. We wonder why we feel we are slaves to forces outside our control. This must end. Stop being so passive. Straighten your back. Cancel your captivity. You have the power. Seize it.