Stoicism for Students

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Some Stoicism for Students and Social Media

The modern world is hectic, crazy, and filled with too many distractions, too much stress, and too much . . . everything.

But it has never been different. Throughout history mankind has always had to deal with tumult, conflict, irrationality and every other vice and virtue we humans can make up on any given day.

I find that often, it can be useful to try and glean useful information on how to deal with the modern day world of social media scandal and outrage by turning to the quotations of the Stoics.

Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Seneca, Cato - these old Romans had a lot to say, and much of it holds up in terms of its wisdom.

The following are five different quotes from the stoics that I find useful to keep in mind, and how they may be useful to you as you deal with this modern, always connected and always distracted world.

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Often, students as well as anybody with the ability to prognosticate on their fate (which means most of us) will read a headline, see a tweet, or otherwise hear about some big to do going on in the world. We freak out about it, worry about it, and otherwise find ourselves already adding to our ever growing pool of stress, concerned about what is to come. Or not to come. Or what might not come.

In young people this is most often expressed these days as FOMO, or “Fear of Missing Out” and it’s a big deal. With tons of articles written about it and everything.

But I find that good ol’ Marcus is right on the money here. What is going to come is going to come. Time does not stand still and we are all hurtling toward the future all of the time. We can prepare. We can agonize. We can fret, but it comes all the same.

You must realize that no matter what comes, you will be you and you will deal with it as you. That there is no reason to fear because when the future comes you will do what it is that you were always going to do anyway. If that is to “miss out” on something, then that is how you would always would have reacted, and if that is to engage, then that too, is how you always would have done.

As you are always going to be you and the decisions you make, there is no need to be concerned about the future of these decisions. You’ll make them when you get there, regardless. Understand your own inevitability of purpose.

“Until we have begun to go without them, we fail to realize how unnecessary many things are. We've been using them not because we needed them but because we had them.” - Lucius Annaeas Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

You don’t need to check twitter each day. Or instagram. Or facebook. You don’t need to deliver that hot take that will get you into that argument that you know is forthcoming. You don’t need to play that video game, or buy that cute or neat thing you saw on Pinterest.

Yet we do all of these things beyond our needs all of the time. And not always because we even consciously want to, but because we we are bored, or we don’t want to deal with the present, or we sub-consciously want to add complications to our own lives for the purposes of heightening drama.

Social media in particular is awash with pointless distraction and diversion. It feeds into our brain’s pleasure centers to engage with people online and our primal nesting instincts to peruse online showcases of goods we might one day want to own.

It all adds to our stress and often, to our dissatisfaction with life.

If you find this behavior describes your engagement with social media then there is one tip you can always try: realize that walking away from all of your feeds and screens will not kill you and walk away. Maybe for an hour, maybe for a day, maybe for a week, but just Turn. It. Off.

It can be incredibly rewarding to take a break from social media, and I’m not the only one who recommends this.

“Remember, it is not enough to be hit or insulted to be harmed, you must believe that you are being harmed. If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation. Which is why it is essential that we not respond impulsively to impressions; take a moment before reacting, and you will find it easier to maintain control.”
― Epictetus, The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness and Effectiveness

As most everybody knows, one of the constant ever-present problems with engaging on social media channels is trolling. Those other people who purposefully go out of their way to strike inflammatory commentary in order to generate frustration and reaction.

On top of this, since much of the reality of online discourse is subjective, many people who genuinely engage with others on these channels and due to differences of opinion, might just say something that ticks you off or offends you.

It’s in these moments that so many people turn to reporting others for using hate speech or other ToS breaking behavior, even if they didn’t really do anything like that. The general lack of good faith given to others we don’t know in our online spaces means we see content we don’t like, and often we abuse whatever tools are on hand to silence those we disagree with, becoming just as bad as any troll in many regards.

But in addition to, as Epictetus says, always remembering to take a moment, breathe, and let our emotions settle, it’s also useful to consider a newer practice of argumentation taking the world of philosophy by storm: the Steel Man.

The Steel Man technique is the opposite of a Straw Man - where someone makes up a ridiculous, disingenuous and most notably, weak position for their opposition so they can easily defeat a point they never made and win an argument. When you Steel Man, you instead consider a person’s argument or rhetoric, and in addition to trying to clear away your own emotions from the direct message, you consider the argument genuine and try to come up with your own best possible conception as to why they may think this way.

If an argument sounds ridiculous on its face, consider how you yourself might have come to this very same position. Consider the best reasons for the position that you can think of. Then posit those reasons and how you might empathetically come to agree with them to the person you’re engaging with. From this position of shared experience and understanding, this is where you can refute their point or rhetoric.

While there will always be trolls who don’t care and are just trying to tick you off, using this technique can lead to a major diffusion of their aggravating discourse. And in the cases where you are at genuine disagreement with another person, it can lead to less enraging, more conscious, and simply better disagreement at the very least.

Adam R Thomas