Written by Donald Hughes, 2020
We all know the beloved character portrayed masterfully by the late Leonard Nimoy, the ever stoic Spock. As the first officer on a galaxy whizzing spacecraft, Spock was always exploring not only worlds unknown, but also the logic behind the ever-changing circumstances that he and the crew found themselves in. And unknowingly to his many, many fans, it was not only his persona that was truly “stoic”, but the overall way in which the crew of the Enterprise survived the countless adventures that was at the heart of the series, and real examples of “Stoicism”.
Today, we define “stoic” as “a person who is seemingly indifferent to or unaffected by joy, grief, pleasure, or pain.” Or, someone who, like Spock, shows little or no emotion. But the true stoic goes much deeper than that and much further back in time. To the ancient Greek and Hellenistic philosophers, around the 3rd century BC, “Stoicism” was born and founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens.. It is a philosophy of personal ethics informed by its system of logic and its view on the natural world. According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to true happiness, or eudaimonia, is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or fear of pain. By using one’s mind to understand the world in which one finds themselves in at the moment rather than allowing emotions to rule.
Often times, people are suddenly thrust into an environment totally foreign to them, often harsh and unforgiving, and without any of the modern-day conveniences we are all so accustom to. These people are suddenly faced with the reality to survive, or to perish. Whether it be due to a car breaking down, or an airplane crashing, or getting lost in the woods on a weekend camping trip, the world around them is completely different, new and unknown. Experts who have studied those that survive and live to tell about their experiences, have a few key things in common. First, they have the ability to stay calm in the face of whatever life may throw at them. They do have fear, but have the courage to face the fear. Second, they become experts in improvisation. They can find a use for everything around them. They make fire without matches, find water where there are no faucets, and find food where there are no stores. Third, they become DYI experts. They are the ultimate “tinkers” and will be able to find a way to fix something that has broken before trying to find a Walmart to replace it, and fourth, they are great leaders. They know how to make tough decisions, and how to assess a situation before panicking, and they know when and how to take action.
Today, many of us are finding ourselves in new, uncharted territory. It could be as a result of a failed marriage, or a loss of employment, or the strange new world of pandemic outbreaks. Our world is suddenly different from what we are accustomed to, and it may be full of fear and anxiety. This is not new, and the ancient philosophers recognized that very thing. Should we choose to fight the change, to look at our new circumstance as overwhelming and unacceptable, or try to focus on why this change happen to us we will fail. Those that don’t make it when lost in the woods, for example, are often found only a short distance from where it began having given up, sunk to despair, and waiting for rescue that never comes. The ancient Stoics also believed that our natural world would always present challenges and change, some we can control and others beyond our control. For the latter, they understood that to accept that change, one must adapt, improvise and make decisions using logic and reason. I watch old episodes of Star Trek and realize that the crew were indeed stoics, and that “guy” was going to die before the episode ends because he refuses to recognize and adapt to the new hostile environment.
I like to think of myself as a true stoic; I have overcome many changes and always looked at them as challenges. I have been suddenly thrust into a new world, and having to use my mind, heart and soul to reach for higher ground. I have had to find the courage to keep moving, to get up each time I fell, and to find my way out, and emerge a better, stronger and smarter person. I know from experience that there is no one coming to the rescue, that very few can be relied on, and that God has blessed me with an insight to see the true snares of life. I have come to understand that the combination of the stoic Spock, and the intrepid Captain Kirk is the perfect balance for happiness, joy and survival.