If there is an experience that is common to all humankind, I would say it is suffering. I wouldn’t go as far as to say “existence is suffering”, but you don’t have to be an anti-natalist to agree that life can be hard sometimes and everyone goes through difficult times every now and then. So yeah, if you’re a human, suffering is kinda unavoidable. But wait, I promise I didn’t bring this up just to depress you. I’d like to explore how the Stoics and Christians respond to suffering and the similarities between them.
To the Stoics, suffering or obstacles in life provide you with an opportunity to practice your philosophy and Stoic virtues. After all, what is the point of Stoicism if your life is perfect and you’re perpetually happy? If you’re never rattled in life, there’s no need for Stoicism at all! Can you really call yourself a Stoic if you never have to practice your philosophy? Stoicism is easy to read about, but difficult to put into practice. And so, as Marcus Aurelius says, count yourself lucky if things don’t go your way, for you now have the chance to really be a Stoic!
I hear you say “How unlucky that this should happen to me!” Not at all! Say insted, “How lucky that I am not broken by what has happened and am not afraid of what is about to happen. The same blow might have struck anyone, but not many would have absorbed it without capitulation or complaint.”Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
To the Christians, suffering is also a part and parcel of life, and the appropriate response to suffering is, well, to rejoice. As counterintuitive as it might sound, it’s not asking you to be a masochist, but rather you can rejoice because of the benefit it provides. Like character building for instance. Or in my case, as a student, after each semester of suffering, I emerge stronger and a little bit smarter (hopefully). The apostle Paul puts it very nicely:
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hopeRomans 5:3-4 (ESV)
I think both the Stoics and Christians will agree that counting yourself lucky or rejoicing in your suffering is more than just a coping mechanism for difficult times. Instead, these responses are deeply rooted in reason if you truly embody your philosophy or faith. But of course, that’s not to say it’s easy to respond in such a manner. It’s definitely a struggle for me, so I guess I’m writing this as a note-to-self more than anything.
And as usual, I’m terrible at concluding my posts but, thanks for reading my first post of 2022!