Stoicism and the Wonder It Holds for Criticism

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“The success of an insult depends on the sensitivity and the indignation of the victim. – Seneca.

Stoicism on criticism

This post is gonna go through a challenging topic; criticism. Criticism is not only hard to receive, but also to give. Therefore, we`ll be covering both cases and how Stoic principles can be very handy in such situations.

When criticizing others, remember.

When you criticize, people sometimes tend to take the criticism seriously, – each word thus becomes a burden that must be addressed to a certain degree – whether the criticism is fair or not.

Fortunately, there are several known philosophies that you can follow to rationalize the reproach. A particular school of thought that is ideal for criticism is from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations – the indifferent philosophy of Stoicism.

Philosophical Definitions of Stoicism

Stoicism prides itself in its practicality. Its main goal is for ordinary men and women to find their own happiness, or as the stoics call it, eudemonia. To better appreciate Stoicism, you must first delve into the thoughts of Stoicism’s three greatest minds:

To make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it occurs.” – Epictetus

Learn how to be indifferent to what makes no difference.” – Marcus Aurelius

It`s the power of the mind to be unconquerable.” – Seneca

They might seem like different ideas at face value, but they all essentially mean the same thing – focus on what you can control and accept the rest – this is the Golden Rule of Stoicism. This rule is a major driving force of how stoics assess and deal with real-life situations, and is the path they all take to find eudemonia.

Every idea from stoicism always comes back to this golden rule. According to stoics, they are not disturbed by the way things unfold around us, but are rather disturbed by the way we react to them – this is something we must keep in mind, especially when we critique.

Practical Applications of Stoicism on Criticism

Using the Golden Rule of Stoicism, it’s quite easy to apply its ideals to your everyday life. There are three stoic practices that you must commit yourself to if you aim to emphasize practicality or even find your own eudemonia: the dichotomy of control, memento mori and amor fati.

  • Dichotomy of Control – As mentioned, dichotomy of control is a practice that circles itself back to the Golden Rule of Stoicism: focus on what you can control and accept the rest. The concept of control is heavily emphasized in Stoicism as the stoics believe that grasping its dichotomy will give people a sense of what they can or cannot influence in their life; failure to do so and stoics may regress back to feelings of bitterness and depression.

To practice the dichotomy of control, you must sit back, reflect on your life and ask yourself – what can you change about it, and what can you leave as is?

  • Memento Mori -The literal translation for memento mori is “remember death”. In a practical sense, it is used by stoics to remind us of our own mortality. Like control, death is an occurring concept in stoicism. Other philosophies may teach you that thinking about death is a waste of time, but stoicism utilizes it to cherish our time and make the most out of it.

Meditating under the concept of memento mori imparts within you the lesson that with the inevitability of death, time is finite. You must do what you can to savor the important parts of your life and achieve eudemonia. To practice memento mori, you must first acknowledge that death is not a painful or sad experience, and then go through life cherishing every second.

  • Amor fati – This translates to “the love of fate”. In the stoics’ perspective, amor fati teaches us to embrace change; the world constantly changes, and it is in our nature to change along with it.

Going back to the Golden Rule of Stoicism, change is something that you cannot influence and is therefore an aspect you must always accept. To practice amor fati, you must understand that you cannot experience pleasure or pain without change. Life is dynamic, and you must remain dynamic as well.

“Does someone despise me? That’s their problem. Mine is to ensure that what I do or say does not deserve sneer. Does someone hate me? Again, it is their problem. My job is to be friendly and charitable to everyone including those who hate me and show them their mistake”.
Marcus Aurelius

Stoicism on Criticism

If you take to heart the Golden Rule of Stoicism and its three practical practices, you can apply a stoic perspective to your criticisms. Fortunately, these three practices are extremely flexible routines, and can be applied to almost any situation.

Under the dichotomy of control, you can understand that there are aspects wherein constructive criticism is inapplicable, so there is no need to nitpick on them. With memento mori, you reflect on the time you use to write a damaging review in order to decide to backtrack. Instead, you use your time to better use by giving constructive points and giving eudemonia to others. Amor fati teaches you that change is a refreshing part of life, so anything out of the ordinary must be lovingly embraced.

Another stoic practice that you can apply to criticism is a ritual that Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius and Seneca seem to all have in common – journaling. It is impossible to practice stoicism without journaling for one simply cannot exist without the other.

As a critic, you must make it a habit to write down your thoughts and make sure to not neglect anything. At the end of the day, you can reflect back on your writings and, applying the Golden Rule, change what can be changed and accept what cannot be changed.

The Stoics have another exercise called Turning the Obstacle Upside Down, and it is an idea that they are quite famous for. In the simplest of explanations, you can use stoicism to turn every bad thing into a good thing – pain can become pleasure, fear can become excitement, and depression can become eudemonia.

For every obstacle you face, you try your best to find its silver lining and take the most you can get out of that. Does a certain film suck as a superhero movie? Maybe it does, but when viewed as a coming-of-age story, the bad superhero movie may just be considered a masterpiece

Stoics also prefer to “take the view from above” – to quote Marcus Aurelius himself,

“How beautifully Plato put it. Whenever you want to talk about people, it’s best to take a bird’s-eye view and see everything all at once—of gatherings, armies, farms, weddings and divorces, births and deaths, noisy courtrooms or silent places, every foreign people, holidays, memorials, markets—all blended together and arranged in a pairing of opposites.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.

Many problems can be solved with this perspective from far above. Human affairs and your own misfortunes seem trivial from this perspective. Next time you feel troubled, try the bird`s eye view for yourself.

Perspective plays a big role in Stoicism. As a critic, you must always remember to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. This can give you an opportunity to reorient yourself, and you can give a better, rationalized review.

The philosophy of Stoicism and the art of criticism have one thing in common: the practice of indifference. Stoicism also teaches us that everything, including passion, is ephemeral. Keep this, along with everything you have learned from this article, in mind the next time you write your critiques or receive them from someone else.

To wrap, be aware of your words when giving people criticism, remember, its not what you say in most cases, but how you say it. When receiving criticism, dont forget that youre the one dictating if it will hurt your or not. You`re in control!

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