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Bah Humbug to Stoicism

December, 2018

Tchotchke Shop in Prague. Photo by Martha Clark Scala

Let's Modify An Over-Rated Virtue!

“Oh, I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me.”

Or . . .

“That’s okay, I can take care of it.”

These are the words of a stoic. She may have too much to do (‘tis the season when this happens a lot) and yet she will keep saying yes and is very likely to take on more.

She won’t ask for help. She might even take pride in her ability to juggle a bundle of tasks by herself. For some, it’s almost an invisible medal of honor they like to “wear.” Stoics seem to take pride in their ability to overexert without complaint.

As a result, those who do complain or protest about having too much to do, or about burdens they are bearing, are seen as crybabies or weaklings. Is this fair?

The value placed on stoicism in modern society is a set-up for people to be judged as good or bad.

BAH HUMBUG to stoicism!

I did a little research into the origins of stoicism and learned that it was a philosophical movement of the Hellenistic period in Greece back in the 3rd century BC. According to Wikipedia, many stoics “emphasized that because ‘virtue is sufficient for happiness,’ a sage would be emotionally resilient to misfortune.”

I beg to differ.

Sure, virtue is a good thing. Maybe it’s a necessary precondition for joy. But where the Hellenistic philosophers lose me is in their belief that you’re a sage if you’re emotionally resilient to misfortune.

I’m a big fan of building resilience but I’ve seen misfortune in my own and others’ lives. Here is what I have observed: those who go stoic in the face of hardship may look more resilient but difficulties often arise later. Those who allow their emotional response to pain or misfortune to surface and be witnessed sure as heck seem to fare better in the long run.

“If you keep thinking what you’ve always thought,

you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got.”

~ Harvey Mackay

I guess it’s apparent I don’t like the “stinking thinking” embedded in stoicism. Were you told to “pull yourself up by the bootstraps?” Or “carry on?” Well, eventually, we might do exactly that but here’s my plea: why not give yourself an understandable period of time prior to the bootstrap business to feel miserable or devastated or hurt if that is what you’re feeling?

I’m in search of a new term: is there a good word for that middle ground between stoic and crybaby? After all, it’s that middle ground that might bring the most joy in the long run. Got any suggestions?

Comments on this blog post are welcome — see the bottom of this page.



Front Cover of Assembling a Life by Martha Clark Scala

I'm so thrilled to announce that Assembling a Life: Claiming the Artist in My Father (and Myself) is in production at the printers’ shop right now!

The cover features one of my favorite paintings by Geoffrey Clark. In some ways, it's a self-portrait. Now don't you want to get to know more about him? Stay tuned in 2019 for more information on this poignant memoir about my dad and his art.


Prompts For Joy

Click here for a classic (and amusing) holiday song celebrating the festival of lights.

Click here to see what joy a new toy can bring.

(Thank you, Kevin Simmers.)

Click here for all previous Prompts for Joy.


Pictured Above

Tchotchke Shop in Prague, Czech Republic.

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