I have mentioned a few times in the past my desire to flourish as a stoic. There are good days and bad days. At times, getting from point a to point b means taking slow but steady steps forward.
Among my many stoic readings was this reflection that I feel is so appropriate for our times. With “strong men” at the helm of many countries in the world, our reactions to things seem to have become knee-jerk, divisive, and violent. I don’t know. Maybe such type of leadership appeals to our most basic, eye-for-an-eye instinct.
That is why this reflection resonated with me and hopefully with you, too, dear reader. It speaks of the need to be careful of who we try to impress.
One of the cautionary tales that the reflection mentions was that of embattled former lawyer of Donald Trump, Michael Cohen. He endeavored to impress his boss and did whatever it took, often straddling the line between what was right and what was not. He is now in jail.
The same reflection also went on to talk about one of Stoicism’s heroes, Seneca. He started out as Emperor Nero’s tutor. As Nero sank deeper into a life of depravity which led to widespread cruelty and bloodshed, Seneca remained in the Emperor’s service. This is ironic since he himself said, “The favor of ignoble men can only be won by ignoble means.”
The reflection surmises, as most historians second, that Seneca most probably stayed thinking that he could be Nero’s conscience. Such decision destroyed the philosopher’s reputation and ultimately cost him his life.
From both examples, the challenge is clear: We need to be careful about who we are trying to impress, the people we look up to, those who we work for, those who we associate with. You see, as the reflection aptly put it, there is no way to work for bad people without becoming at least a little bit like them.
So, let it be written on stone — our principles, our values, our so-called nonnegotiables. If we do not live according to a clear moral compass, we will end up with what the reflection cautions against: a life of ruined chances and choices.