What if someone despises me? Let them see to it. But I will see to it that I won’t be found doing or saying anything contemptible. What if someone hates me? Let them see to that. But I will see to it that I’m kind and good-natured to all, and prepared to show even the hater where they went wrong. Not in a critical way, or to show off my patience, but genuinely and usefully. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 11.13
Here are some principles derived from ancient Stoic literature, and adapted slightly to serve as a set of basic guidelines for the attitude and actions of those wishing to engage in online communities, in accord with Stoic wisdom and virtue. Please help me to improve them by suggesting changes or additions in the comments below, and I’ll try to revise them accordingly.
These are intended to help contribute to the development of a healthy Stoic community and also to help Stoics deal with difficult encounters with others online, including responding appropriately to so-called “internet trolls” and “flaming”.
- I believe that virtue is the only true good and vice the only true evil, although it may also be natural and rational to prefer to get or avoid other things in life.
- I view others who believe that virtue is the only true good as if they were my brothers and sisters, and the wise and virtuous as my truest friends.
- I look to Nature and the actions of wise and good people (people who live according to Nature) for guidance as to how I should lead my own life.
- I treat the rest of humanity, the remainder who are neither wise nor good, with patience, and so I wish them to learn and to flourish, fate permitting, even though they do not share my most cherished beliefs and values.
- I seek to lead primarily by example, demonstrating virtue to others through my words and actions.
- I try to empathise with others by understanding the beliefs that guide their actions but I accept that I can never be certain what other people’s motives are, and therefore whether they are truly virtuous or vicious.
- I accept that all human beings, myself and the founders of the Stoa included, lack perfect wisdom and virtue, and therefore nobody is treated as an absolute authority.
- When others do wrong, I view that as due to their ignorance concerning what is truly good, bad, and indifferent in life, rather than voluntary malice.
- I forgive others for any foolish or vicious actions carried out in ignorance.
- I remember that nobody can truly harm me through their words or actions, as only my voluntary actions can be virtuous or vicious, and therefore truly helpful or harmful to me.
- I try to cultivate a sense of affinity with the rest of mankind, and a natural affection toward others, on the basis of our shared humanity and capacity for reason and virtue.
- I accept that the actions of others are ultimately beyond my direct control, and that whether they become virtuous or vicious, and whether they flourish or not, is never entirely up to me.
- I would prefer others to flourish and become wise and virtuous, and seek to help them do so, fate permitting, but if they do the opposite, I accept that with indifference, as lying beyond my direct control.
- I seek to cultivate the virtues of practical wisdom, justice or fairness, courage, and self-control in myself and others.
- I seek to live in harmony and accord with the rest of mankind, through my philosophy of life, and encourage others to live in harmony also, by setting an example to them of virtue.
- I view the things that the majority of people fight over with relative indifference, as lacking any value whatsoever in relation to virtue, including my physical health, material wealth, and reputation among others.
- While I prefer that other people should be friendly toward me, I do not need anyone to treat me as I would prefer, or demand that they should do so.
- I am at all time cautious to avoid acting foolishly or viciously toward anyone else, or allowing myself to feel excessive desire or aversion toward them, or indeed toward anything external to my own character.
- I view the wise and virtuous as if they were my closest friends, taking time to contemplate and admire their character and actions, and seeking to learn by emulating their example.
- However, I also look for the seeds or traces of wisdom and virtue in others, even in the character and actions of those who behave like enemies – I look for the good in other people, in other words, and seek to learn from it.
The Stoic Handbook
Sign up today for our free email course on the Stoic Handbook. You'll receive weekly emails with my commentary on passages from Epictetus.