Practical Stoicism
Practical Stoicism

Episode 16 · 5 months ago

Ascending to Untrue Impressions


If you'd like to subscribe to the coming publication, please do so here: -- This week we're working through Meditation 15 from Book 2 of The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. -- “‘Everything is just an impression.’ These are the words of Monimus the Cynic. And the response is obvious enough. But the point is a useful one, if you take it for what it’s worth.” -- Meditations: A New Translation (the book I read these meditations from) --> [link]

Hey, they're welcome back to practical stoicism. Work took me to Vegas for a conference last week, so I'd like to thank all of you for tolerating the lack of an episode. That is appreciated. I'd also like to share that, after two weeks of responses, it's clear that the largest portion of listeners want to stick with Marcus and complete his meditations before moving on to Seneca or epictetus. So that's what we're going to do. Also, despite the week off, the podcast is still growing and topping charts all over the world, and so, in a moment of what will seem like on stoicness and maybe braggadociousness, I wanted to share some of those countries with you. Within the philosophy category of Apple podcasts, practical stoicism is now number eighty seven and Bulgaria. Number Twenty three in Brazil, number eight in Belarus, number seventy seven in Cyprus, number eighty eight in Chechia, number seventy one in Denmark,...

...number forty four in the UK, number forty nine in Croatia, number twenty two in Indonesia, number forty seven in India, number twenty eight in Kerzakhstan, number thirty nine in Nigeria, number thirty one in Poland, number twenty in Turkey, number thirty six in the United States and number twenty three in South Africa. I'm absolutely not sharing this information to gloat. Instead, I'm sharing it to hopefully make it clear to you that you aren't the only one in this mad, crazy world who values philosophy, nor values stoicism in particular, and I know all too well that it can seem as though the world has lost its mind at times. But there are people just like you and just like me, who are trying their best, who are trying our best to be the cool heads that hopefully prevail. It's not easy, but well, as you can see, we're not alone in our desires to calm things down and move towards a more rational, fair and unclouded way of thinking. Day today, I personally find that to be the most rewarding thing about...

...doing this podcast and about seeing it be so well received, and by that I mean it helps me to feel like, Hey, maybe we're not all a little out of our minds, maybe there are more of US trying to be sane and rational than the media be that social or traditional makes it seem, and maybe you feel the same way. Today's meditation is the third from last of book two and it's a very short one. It reads as follows everything is just an impression. These are the words of monymous the CYNIC, and the response is obvious enough, but the point is a useful one, if you take it for what it's worth. This meditation has been translated a few ways. Sometimes impression is read as opinion, but I find it interesting that Gregory Hayes, the author of the translation I'm reading from, uses the term impression. We haven't talked about it yet, but in stoicism there is the concept of assent or ascending, and specifically of ascending to an untrue impression.

For example, you're alone at night, walking home from a night out with your friends and you see someone walking in the opposite direction as you. You think they look menacing, maybe they mean you harm, and suddenly you're on high alert. As the gap between them and you closes, you get ready for the confrontation that you feel is inevitable. But as the man passes you, he looks up, smiles and says great night for a walk, Huh, then continues on his way, you've ascended to an untrue impression of reality. We're all guilty of doing this, and we do it many times a day. You've likely heard the anecdote of the man on the subway, tired after a long day of work and being irritated by three young children whom are running around the subway car, wild and unhinged, while their father stares off into space and does nothing to rain them in. The man eventually gets irritated and says something to the effect of Hey, buddy, can't you keep...

...control of your kids? They're disrupting everyone. The other man snaps out of his daydream and replies, Oh yeah, I'm sorry about that. I should be calming them down. Their mother just died, you see, and I haven't told them yet. I'm not sure how to do it. I'm just not myself right now. I'm sorry. Suddenly there's this perspective shift, because we've ascended, in that example, to an impression of what is going on without having all the facts. Now we have all the facts and we view the situation in an entirely different way. A good stoic should always try to realize this, that we don't have all the facts, that we don't know what the situation is really that we don't have an omniscient understanding of all things at all times, and that we should act in our dealings with others with this understanding in mind. But sometimes our impressions are right enough, and I think Marcus is trying to remind us of this. Yes, it's true that...

...every impression is likely to be only partially informed, and it's important to remember that always, but it's also true that our experiences and instincts have become what they are for a reason, and we shouldn't entirely ignore them. Stepping away from Marcus for a moment and opining a bit on my own, I think it's important to strike a balance between profiling situations for our own safety and profiling situations for the sake of our own moral posturing. Profiling a stranger in the dark when your alone is something that might save your life, but profiling the father on the train, well, all that does is give you a chance to judge and demean and attempt to feel or appear superior to that other person. So, as Marcus says, the response demonym us is easy enough, by which I think he means yes, of course this is a truism, but the point is a useful one if you take it for what it's worth, by which I feel he means but truisms are still in important things to...

...keep in mind. Just don't use them as an excuse for assuming too much about what you think you know. Thanks for listening to this episode of practical stoicism and, if you will allow me, I'd like to ask you a favor. I'm starting a free monthly publication on Stoicism and I love to have you as a subscriber. There's a link in the show notes and I hope you'll go and subscribe to it so that you can receive it. Thanks again for listening and until next time, take care.

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