When a person thinks of the word “Stoic,” there is often the assumption of no emotion or, at the least, indifference to feelings. Think of Spock from Star Trek fame.
While there is a bit of truth that Stoics tend toward rationality instead of emotional outbursts, mainly due to training the mind and will instead of innate ability, they are not purely without emotion.
The human mind is essentially an emotional machine. Our limbic system (lizard brain, the older portion in evolutionary biology) often overrides or drives the rational portions of our brain. Much of that part of our brain is tied to emotions and intuitions.
Psychologist and moral philosopher Jonathan Haidt said that “the emotional tail wags the rational dog.” You can see more of this phenomenon in Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink,” and Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit.”
Even though our tendency is toward the emotional (or affective in scientific terms), it does not mean that our impulses and intuitions entirely imprison us. We can train ourselves to hold off from judgments and actions long enough to learn more information and see the bigger picture. Yes, there are times when we need to act instead of deliberate or rationalize. But there are many instances when jumping to conclusions and springing into action has led to far worse outcomes.
For me, Stoicism has been an adventure in taking back control over my mind from the animalistic drives embedded in our subconscious. Stoicism has helped me be more human/less creature in some ways. I know those are strong terms, but they make sense to me.
In his book “Antifragility,” Nassim Taleb wrote that “Stoicism is the domestication, not the elimination, of emotion.” I think domestication is a perfect term for my purposes. We will always have our wild, nativistic, emotional urges. They are natural and deeply entrenched in our psyche. But we can “domesticate” those urges, tame them instead of being led unwillingly and often unwittingly by them.
Photo courtesy of Megan Simone.
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2 thoughts on “More Human, Less Lizard: Stoicism as an Antidote”
Domestication; here here! Taming our impulses and/or inclinations to react can bring about a great degree of freedom and mental clarity. Also remembering to get back up after slipping:
“When circumstances force you into being, as it were, disturbed, quickly return to yourself, and do not step out of your rhythm for longer than is necessary; you will master the harmony more by returning to it constantly.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 6.11
I love the quote by Aurelius. Thank you for sharing that. I will try to keep that in mind when I am tempted to lose my Stoic composure.