In the case of many men their vices being powerless escape notice although as soon as the person in question have become satisfied with their own strength, the vices will be no less daring than those which those have prosperity has already disclosed. – Seneca
What is the most important value to you? Patience? Honor? Is it something broader, for example, do you try to just be a good person? This letter is about values and how your values can change or be exaggerated by your environment. Think about your own vices good or bad. We all have them, so don’t be ashamed to think about them. Are you power hungry at work? Do you like to have a few beers after work every day? Don’t lie to yourself because there’s probably something in your life that you would consider a vice. More than likely you can control those vices. For example, if your vice is having a few beers after work it’s most likely just a few because you have to work tomorrow. What if that didn’t matter? What if you didn’t need to work, would you be drinking until blackout every night? That’s what the point of the quote is. We are all good at keeping those vices under control because something in our environment forces us to keep them under control. The real question, is what happens when that control is gone? The last letter we talked about how finding your norm guides your life. That’s even more important when it comes to our vices. If your norm is to be a good person, more than likely that’s keeping your vices under control, not some external environmental circumstance. Think about what your vices are and why you keep them under control. What happens if that control is gone? Part of this practice of stoicism is understanding that life happens and we should be prepared for anything and everything.
One can hold a poisonous snake if it’s stiff in the cold. The poison is not lacking it is merely numbed to inaction. – Seneca
Did that quote make sense? Read it again. What in your life is that frozen snake waiting to warm up and strike you when you least expect it? You know there’s something. We all have them. For me, there are too many to list. One of mine was drinking. We joke that when you’re from Steamboat you grew up in a drinking town with a skiing problem. That followed most of us through college and still plagues some of us in our adult life. I know you’re thinking “but Dusty you don’t seem like someone who gets drunk every night.” And you’d be correct because I do not, but that has more to do with my job. Being hungover as a personal trainer is quite possibly the most miserable experience that life has to offer. That may be too extreme but you get the point. Let’s say I wasn’t a personal trainer and instead was a ski bum working in some ski town. Then what would the drinking be like? That’s easy for me to know what that would be like because I love beer and love whiskey. If I didn’t have to have my game face on at 6 am who knows how that vice would show it’s ugly face. Get it now? I have that under control because of my job, not because I have it under control. Now with that said I would like to believe that I do have it under control but you never know if that’s my frozen poisonous snake. What’s yours? I know you’ve been thinking about it. What’s your poisonous snake?
The moral of this story is to be careful of your vices, your poisonous snakes, especially when you feel that if your circumstances change so will those vices. Now that you and I are focused on our vices that are under control, what happens when we want to change those? What happens if I just want to stop drinking altogether? You have your vices under control now because of the environment that you created for yourself, but can you give up those vices cold turkey? Can I give up having a few drinks a few days a week? No way could I… wait a minute. Before you freak about quitting cold turkey think about it this way.
Look about you and note the things that drive us mad, which we lose with a flood of tears; you will perceive that it is not the loss that troubles us with reference to these things, but a notion of loss. – Seneca
Does it sum up how you’re feeling? We don’t want to stop cold turkey because we know it’ll be hard. We don’t want to stop because just thinking about it makes us anxious. Thinking about how anxious you’re going to be is what’s stopping you from killing your poisonous snake. Let that sink in for a minute. It’s the thoughts about how scary it would be to stop drinking that stops you before you try. It’s the thoughts like “but I enjoy it” or “it helps me relax”. Those are the thoughts that drive us mad. We all know that not drinking every night or not eating sweets all the time will lead to a better and healthy life. The thinking is getting in the way. And this is coming from the king of overthinking. Now go kill your poisonous snake. Go find a better you. The best you.
Other quotes from letter #42 that I’m pondering:
Very often the things that cost nothing cost us the most heavily; I can show you many objects the quest and acquisition of which have wrested freedom from our hands.
This man that you spoke is still far from the man he professes he has reached and if he knew what it meant to be a good man he would not believe himself as such.
He thinks ill will of evil men but so do evil men.
He will do the same thing as soon as he acquires the same powers.
These men simply do not have the means to show their wickedness.
Give them power equal to their wishes.
“You will have less money.” Yes, and less trouble. “Less influence.” Yes, and less envy.
No one feels that they have been lost, but his mind tells him that it has been so. He that owns himself has lost nothing. But how few men are blessed with ownership of self!