Roman Calendar

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Seneca on labels

     One of the oft-repeated maxims of Stoicism is to "remember that you are an actor in a play." In other words, very little of the script of your life is up to you; much of it has been written by a great Playwright (Providence, the Stoics would say, atheists might prefer "fate" or "luck," pagans might say "the gods" or monotheists might say "God," but the facts are the same - most things are not in your control, and never will be). The play is written, the part is assigned, and all that is in your power is to play your part as well as you can. Of course, your understanding of your part is important to this - do not become obsessed with labels. The part you play is being you - it is, in part, up to you to determine exactly what that means.

     On a Stoicism discussion list I follow, someone recently brought up this idea of not over-identifying with labels, but to "remember that you are an actor in a play." You play your part, but should not assume that you are the role that fate assigns - you merely play the part. You have no innate right or tie to a role assigned by Providence, as Providence may take it away from you, just as it was assigned. The person who raised this issue gave many examples of the idea that "I am not the role I play," citing examples of roles and redefining them as acts in which one participates. For my own life, I could give examples like, "I am not a teacher. I am a person who teaches. I am not poor. I am a person who has little money. I am not a Stoic. I am a person who happens to practice Stoicism." And so on . . .

     In my reading of Seneca's letters to Lucilius, I find the statement "Non puto pauperem, cui quantulumcumque superest, sat est." - "I do not regard a man as poor, if the little which remains is enough for him." Now, in this quote, Seneca isn't specifically addressing the issue of identifying with labels . . . and yet, it is an integral part of the thinking behind this quote. Because the Stoic does not consider someone to be the apparent role they play - like "poor" - although the person may not have money or possessions, they are not poor if they are content with what they have . . .

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