Stoicism tells us that no happiness can be secure if it’s rooted in changeable, destructible things. Our bank accounts can grow or shrink, our careers can prosper or falter, even our loved ones can be taken from us. There is only one place the world can’t touch: our inner selves, our choice at every moment to be brave, to be reasonable, and to be good.
The Stoic works to stay indifferent to everything that happens on the outside, to stay equally happy in times of triumph and disaster. It’s a demanding way of life, but the reward it offers is freedom from passion–freedom from the emotions that so often seem to control us, when we should control them. A real Stoic isn’t unfeeling. But he or she does have a mastery of emotions; because Stoicism recognizes that fear or greed or grief only enter our minds when we willingly let them in.
In 1965, James Stockdale’s A-4E Skyhawk was shot down over Vietnam. Stockdale spent more than seven years in a Vietnamese prison, and he wrote that Stoicism saved his life. Stockdale had spent years studying Stoic thought before deploying, and he drew on those teachings to endure his captivity.
Stoicism teaches us that, before we try to control events, we have to control ourselves first. Our attempts to exert influence on the world are subject to chance, disappointment, and failure–but control of the self is the only kind that can succeed 100% of the time.1
It is in this last respect that I find a stoic attitude appropriate for resolving family law matters. If clients and attorneys can first learn to control themselves, all things are possible. The more common experience is for people to obsess over things they cannot control, and outcomes that may never occur.
1 This blog post contains a series of excerpts from Anderson, Kare, “Five reasons Stoicism matters today.” Retrieved from: www.forbes.com. September 28th 2012.