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Hakuna Matata!

Edited by: Malavika Suresh (UG21)

In this journey of life, we have picked up lessons here and there from our experiences, sometimes it is self-thought and sometimes those lessons are thrust upon us. Philosophy helps us understand our experiences and has a way of giving names to these “lessons”. One such lesson which most of us might have picked up is named “stoicism”. (even if you haven’t picked it up yet, don’t worry girl, now you will). 

Today, the word stoic means someone who remains calm even under extreme pressure. Even though the word manages to captures important aspects of stoicism but the original philosophy was more than just an attitude. Let’s dig into how the word “stoicism” was coined. Zeno of Citium was once a wealthy merchant. But he lost everything when he was shipwrecked in Athens around 300 BCE. What would someone one does if they are in his position, yes, they would wander into a book shop! That’s exactly what Zeno did. He became intrigued by philosophy after reading about Socrates, proceeded to study with the city’s noted philosophers. He started teaching his students in the school he had established which became to be known as “stoicism”. They studied in a “stoa” which means open market, unlike other schools at those times. The stoics wanted to be in the middle, to interact with the public and make their lives better. 

The philosophy of stoicism is broad and covers various things. What I want to mainly discuss is the core teaching of stoicism. Stoicism separates a problem into two-part; one part is the one we can’t control and the other is what we can control. Worrying about the part which we can’t control will get you nowhere. Stoicism shifts our focus to the part that we can control. This reduces our anxiety and lets us better cope with uncertainty. For example, I cannot control how my readers will react to this article, will they like it or not. What I can control is how I write it and give my best. 

Stoicism became one of the major philosophies. The teachings of virtue, self-control, and tolerance have inspired generations of teachers and thinkers.  One among them is the Roman writer Seneca, he was a senator, playwriter, a man who has influenced Shakespeare and advisor to the infamous emperor Nero. Seneca never understood the concept of giving false hope in an uncertain situation, he believed it sets you up only to fall. Instead, he wanted us to imagine the worst that could possibly happen BUT! also realize that the worst is survivable. 

Marcus Aurelius, one of the few king-philosophers of all history, wrote “the meditation” his own personal diary. Despite being showered with everything that a person could ever ask, Aurelius choose to live a humbled life. To put it in his own words, he wrote: “almost nothing material is needed for a happy life, for who has understood existence”. Centuries later Marcus’s journals would guide and comfort Nelson Mandela during his 27 yearlong imprisonments. Unusually for philosophy, stoicism attracted a lot of women. They used to gather to discuss the philosophy and many of them practiced it in their life. Porcia Catonis was one among them, she was the wife of Brutus, one of the co-conspirators against Caesar. She had a lot to deal with in her life and resorted to stoicism. Historical leaders like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson used stoicism in their life

Now that we have understood what stoicism is, let us go through some scenarios to understand how we can use the principle philosophy of stoicism in our daily life

1] getting anxious about the upcoming exam? 

Stoicism urges us to realize that neither the examination dates nor the toughness of the paper setting is under our control. Worrying over the things we can’t control gets us nowhere. So, we need to focus on what we can control, that is our preparations for the exam. It is the one-shot you can give, so make it your best

2] someone you like does not like you back? 

Again, we can use the same approach. It is not under our control to influence other person feelings towards us. Approaching the problem in this way will shift our focus from accusing our own self to understanding reality. Influencing other person thoughts isn’t under our control. 

3] any situation?

Just realize that the external factors, be it a person, a problem is not within our control. Trying to control the external factors in haste will make it much more chaotic. Focus on yourself internally, formulating how you are going to approach this problem. It will give you a better way of dealing with it. 


My dear friends, here we end our journey in understanding stoicism in its simplest form. You can pick it up again to understand it at a deeper level. Just a side note, Stoicism isn’t the only way to deal with a problem, it is one of many ways of dealing with a problem. we can arrive at any approach to dealing with a problem that is suitable for us. Ending for the beginning of discovering many lessons in life, adios