Stoicism and Our Need for Truth

Stoicism was a school of philosophy around 300 AD. To put it simply, they taught that all destructive emotions, such as hate, anger, and even emotional pain, are caused by belief in something that was not true or only half-true. It was founded by Zeno Citium.


Most psychologist and self-help gurus connect happiness to positive emotions and feelings. They say to be happy, you need to go about maximizing your positive responses to life. It is true that happiness involves positive emotions and feelings. But the search of happiness can easily lead to unhappiness. This indicates that positive feelings are not the original cause of happiness.

A better way of thinking about happiness is to see it as the product of a full and thriving life.

The story goes that a slave was being shackled to make sure he didn’t get away. As the slave master tightened the ankle shackle, the slave calmly stated that if it was tightened much more, it would break his ankle. The slave master continued to tighten the shackle and sure enough, the bones in the ankle broke. Instead of going into hysterics or fighting, the slave simply fell to the ground saying nothing. The slave master was so impressed with the calm demeanor of the slave that rather than punishment, he was celebrated.

The slave was able to remain calm because he knew he had no power to stop what was about to happen and that getting excited or belligerent would only make matters worse.

Stoics took the lesser of evils when the evil was unpreventable. A whole leg would have been the ideal but the slave was unable to accomplish that and remain rational.

Getting a broken leg was bad, but fighting with his master could get him killed, therefore it was the lesser of the two evils.

Stoicism was a refinement of cynicism, which teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions. It does not seek to do away with emotions completely, but to transform them allowing a person to develop clear judgment, inner calm and freedom from suffering (which is different from pain).

Stoicism includes the practice of logic, contemplation of death and a kind of meditation aimed at training one’s attention to remain in the present moment.

The key is not to assume stories but to believe only what is provably true.

Look at the picture

World of Not Words

Which of the following things do you see in the picture above?

  • A family
  • A group of strangers
  • A father and son
  • A mother and daughter
  • Picture on the wall
  • A dog with brown spots
  • Group finishing dinner
  • A man having a snack
  • Group starting dinner
  • A happy group
  • A family dog
  • Dog wanting food
  • A man in a suit
  • Four people and a dog
  • A window on the wall
  • A table and chairs

One of our biggest problems in Western Society is that we are taught deductive reasoning to a fault. We are taught to jump to conclusions based upon partial evidence. We often can’t tell what is true and which of our beliefs are merely conclusions to which we have jumped. What if the conclusion is not the truth?

For example, knowing someone whose clothes are mostly red or have red accents might make you think that red it their favorite color. It is also entirely possible that they have a loved one who loves red. Or that there is some kind of symbol expressed by wearing red. Perhaps they wear second hand clothes from someone who loved red.

What we believe could be false. If we are happy living in the lie, perhaps that is OK. What if you want to get a gift for this person? Wouldn’t it be helpful to know that royal purple is their favorite color? Wouldn’t everyone be happier knowing the truth?

How can we fix a problem when we don’t know what to fix?

Thinking rationally is to believe the truth. It is the ability to think clearly and sensibly, unimpaired by physical or mental conditions, strong emotionality, or prejudice.

Rational thinking is presented in a way that is inline with reason and logic or with scientific knowledge. I speak with so many people who say they believe in science rather than religion and yet think irrationally, believing something that is not true and that we can actually disprove. Things like, “I’m too stupid.” “I am never going to be happy.” “No one cares about me.”

Here are five questions that will tell you if you are thinking rationally and accepting reality just as it is. The criteria for reality is that a situation must illicit a positive response from at least three of the following questions. What you believe must:

Thinking irrationally leads to the following:

Rational Higher Self

  1. Be based upon provable fact.
  2. Help you protect your health and life.
  3. Help you achieve short and long-term goals.
  4. Help avoid unnecessary conflicts with others.
  5. Help you feel emotions you want to feel.

Irrational Average Self

  1. Your belief is based upon assumptions.
  2. Puts your health or even your life at risk such as constant tension, stomach trouble, many colds and flu
  3. Felling depressed, anxious, confused.
  4. Have no goals or can’t get going on achieving your goals.
  5. Feeling angry and arguing with others.
  6. Makes you feel “bad”, sad, tense, or very often ill.

A common irrational thought is that something “should” or “should not” have happened. “Shoulding” is a very easy way to make yourself miserable. The late Albert Ellis used to tell his clients that they were, “shoulding all over themselves.” Meaning they were believing something that was not wholly true.

“Must” was another clue that your thoughts were irrational.

“I must get this person to like me.” “I must pass this test.” “You must do this for me.”

None of these is true. You can hope, you can prepare your best, you can ask for help, but you may still not accomplish what you think you must. Dr. Ellis called it “Musterbation”.

Can you see why “must” and “should” can be irrational?

First, in order for something to happen in this universe, everything that needs to happen to make an action take place must happen. (One place where “Must” is rational). Things only happen when everything needed for a thing to happen has happened.

Second, if everything required for an action to take place, has happened, then that action will happen. If the thing you expected to happen, then something necessary for it to happen, has not happened.

Third, if an action doesn’t happen, it means that not everything required for that action to take place, has happened. If every thing required for a thing to happen, has happened, then it will happen.

There is no magic. Everything in this universe happens exactly as it should happen. Nothing that shouldn’t happen, happens. I hope you can get your brain around that. It took me a while.

If someone dies by electrocution because of a bare wire, we can’t say, “That shouldn’t have happened!”

There was a bare wire. The victim touched the wire, possibly while standing in water to provide the ground. The flow of electricity was strong enough to interrupt to heartbeat. He was exposed long enough to stop the oxygen flow to his brain. No one was able to start his heart beating again. Everything necessary for that person to die from electrocution was present.

It would have been a miracle (Magic) had he not been electrocuted.

That doesn’t mean that we like what has happened or approve of it. In fact, we may proceed to do everything we can to prevent it from happening again. Still, it happened just as it should have – just as it must have.

So when you are saying this ‘shouldn’t” have happened or this “must” happen this way, you are fighting with reality. When you believe something that is not true, you are fighting with reality. When you think and act irrationally, you are fighting with reality.

When you fight with reality, who do you think will win?

The second part of our introduction explains Paganism and Our Need for Rituals.

PS: In the picture, the only things we can be sure of are that it contains four people, a dog, a table and chairs, a plate, a picture and two glasses.