As you all know because you so fervently follow this unique approach to our game of genealogical Clue, one of my coauthors recently posted about Stoicism. That same day, I was doing a crossword puzzle and one of the clues asked for the name of the founder of Stoicism. This was obviously a sign that I need to continue that conversation 🙂 Actually, my friends post prompted me to do a little more digging into the philosophy because, as a Midwesterner, I often brag about the stoic approach Midwesterners take to life and the challenges it throws at us. My digging led to the discovery of this quote by Seneca:
“There in no one more unfortunate than the man who has never been unfortunate. for it has never been in his power to try himself.”
The quote resonates with me as a man and a parent. I firmly believe the challenges life has presented have made me better in both capacities. In fact, I’ve come to relish challenges to a certain degree because it gives me the chance to see what I’m capable of and push myself past the limits to which I normally succumb. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of challenges I’d rather not deal with such as death, disease or disasters of epic proportion. But even the challenges I’ve faced in that realm have made me a better man, friends, father, husband, etc. and I’m grateful for everyone who has taught me, guided me, trusted me and pushed me so that I’m able to grow through them.
As parent, this philosophy was always part of the conversation while making decisions on how to raise our kids. Like everyone, we always want our kids to have a better life than we had, but at the same time we don’t want to spoil them. Seneca’s quote encapsulates the caution we always had in balancing the act of giving with the desire for growth. What is the character building equivalent of throwing a kid in the lake to make them swim or teaching them how to throw a punch so they can defend themselves instead of running from the bully? How much of our childrens’ character comes from what we tell them, what we show them and what we challenge them to do on their own?
Here’s the part of Stoicism that often gets glossed over. Stoics aren’t only calm and collected when the going gets tough. They are just as nonplussed when the golden goose is laying dozens of eggs…when everyone loves them and heaps praise on them…when they seem to be incapable of doing anything wrong. They’re matter of fact about the entire spectrum of life events because they accept that life is a continuation of highs and lows with most of those events out of our control. That is the equivalent to the swimming or boxing lesson–teaching our kids to understand what is in our control, what isn’t in our control and how to handle both.