Ancient philosophers have long espoused the virtues of living a good life. The highest aim. Stoicism, a school of philosophy from the 3rd century BCE, has long been idealized as a practical philosophy and way of being. As a path to living the good life, Stoics were no nonsense in their approach, focusing on the importance of actions and wasting no more time on the actions of others. This path to the good life was and is not easy, stoicism illuminates a responsibility you have for your own actions.
“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them…”
But how can we follow this advice? How do I choose my actions? How do I know if my actions are good, if my actions are right?
Seneca, a follower of Stoic philosophy, presents us with numerous lessons and tenets of stoic philosophy through his collection of letters titled Letters from a Stoic. In these letters, Seneca presents us with a strategy to guide our actions and decisions. In his words, one should “Choose Yourself A Cato”.
“Choose someone whose way of life as well as words, and whose very face as mirroring the character that lies behind it, have won your approval. Be always pointing him out to yourself either as your guardian or as your model. There is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against you won’t make the crooked straight.”
Immediately, choosing a mentor and having a standard to measure yourself against can be the impetus to choosing good actions when confronted with the chaos of the modern world. Aiming for the good and aligning your actions with the judgment of your “imaginary tutor” can give you a bearing to strive towards and a metric to measure yourself and your actions against.
The question is then who will you choose? What sages or figures can you surround yourself with? How can you best “Choose Yourself A Cato”? Who can you choose to help you on this path you have set out on?