Modern Stoicism – Logic and Control
What is Stoicism
The classic definition of stoicism is “the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint”. While I do not necessarily disagree with this idea, it is not what stoicism has become. The roots of stoicism live in logic and basing your decisions from a place of logic and not from emotion. Lets take a look at an example.
You are driving down the road and someone cuts you off. There are a couple of options that lay in front of you either based on logic or emotion.
First, you could yell and scream at the person, maybe follow them to closely riding their bumper and maybe lay on your horn for 10 seconds. Having an emotional response like this feels good for a few seconds, but often 5 or 10 minutes later people will find themselves still angry.
Second, you could honk your horn to let the person know they messed up. Then continue to watch the persons driving and make a decision about whether or not they seem to be reckless. If you find them to be reckless, reach out to the police. Last, you move on because from a position of logic, you have done everything you can.
Logic and Control
Another important principal in stoicism is control. Today stoics focus their time, money, and energy on the things they can control. The idea being as you focus on the things you can control, your sphere of control (or influence) expands. On the other side, if you focus time, energy, and money on things you cannot control your sphere of control remains the same and nothing changes.
Larry King is a great example of a stoic. I am not sure if he actually realizes it or not, but its true. When he is speaking to an interviewee he is in complete control of the room. He does not get angry and shout or degrade the people he interviews regardless of what they have done. His main purpose is to understand the person he is interviewing. Then once he understands and has information and built rapport with the individual he is able to ask the few questions he really wanted to ask.
Cal Fussman interviewed Larry King on his podcast where King talked about establishing intimacy and trust with his guests. He explained that he is able to do this because his guests were invited into the environment that King controlled. Not just the room, team, refeshments, etc, but also himself. Larry King knows that because he is in control of himself, he is in control of the interview. Here is a quote from King in the podcast:
Nobody thinks they are bad. Nobody. Hitler didn’t comb his hair in the morning and say “I am an evil person”… So if you are going to interview Hitler, the stuipdest first question would be “Why did you invade Poland?”… If I were interviewing Osama Bin Laden, the stupidest first question would be “Why did you kill 3000 people on that September day in New York?”. I would have asked him “You grew up with the richest family in Saudi Arabia, why did you leave?”… I have made no judgement in that question, I don’t bring an agenda. I want to learn, what we want is information, wouldn’t you want to know the why’s of Osama Bin Laden? Wouldn’t that help you understand when you are interviewing the Osama Bin Laden of the future?
Let’s take a look at one other topic from the interview and how it relates to control. This is a story that never happened that was a discussion between Larry King and a friend, Swami Satchidananda. King presents the scenario to a Swami asking how he would deal with a difficult situation. Lets take a look:
King – Ok, Swami. You come home and walk up into your bedroom and your wife is in bed with another guy.
Swami – Well, what would you do?
King – I would scream and yell.
Swami – Thats right, thats what you would do, you scream and yell, the guy would run out, the woman would be screaming, and pandemonium. BUT what do you want in that situation? Information. Whats the best way to get it? Say “Ok. This is embarrassing you two. I am going to go down and make some tea, why don’t the both of you come down to breakfast and lets talk about this.” Who owns that moment?
King admits he would find this difficult to do in his personal life, as anyone would, but this is exactly what he would do on the air.
Control is Power
The previous example is obviously a very hard and difficult thing to accomplish. Most people are flooded with emotion when a situation like this occurs. But just think for a second about the potential outcome if you are able to stay in control. You get the information you want, you own the room, you are closer to being at peace than you would be running around screaming and yelling. When you are in control you have power.
Remember to focus on the things you can control and as time goes on your control will expand to encompass more. Use logic to make your decisions rather than emotion and fear. You are in control.
I hope you enjoyed this post. If you have any interest in hearing the entire interview with Larry King you can find it here.
You can also read about one of my experiences with using stoic principals in a stressful situation here.