Monday, September 1, 2008
The Stoic Path: Hurricanes
Misfortune is part of life. The natural world seems to hold us hostage to her whims. This current season of hurricanes reminds us all how fragile life can be. But to the Stoic nature is always benign. If the natural world takes us away, this is part of nature's plan. It was meant to be.
This does not mean that we should throw caution to the winds - be they hurricane induced or from some other natural forces. We ought to hold life as a precious gift and we ought to do everything in our power to preserve the life we have. There is one important caveat in this. The life of the human community takes precedence over our own individual life. We need not be a Stoic to own this truth. We need only watch how others, when pressed into the service of community during a natural disaster, will respond to great misfortune.
The human spirit, when allowed to operate on its own, rises to the service of others. The great acts of courage witnessed during a natural disaster are not extraordinary. So often we witness how very ordinary people naturally act, in what the media generally describe, in heroic ways. But these heroic acts are the way of life. Ordinary people do extraordinary things in times of misfortune because they are driven to do what reason commands us to do. We understand that to abandon this command of nature, is a failure of human reason. Cowardice or any action designed exclusively for a self-serving end misses the point of our existence. The opportunity to serve others brings great joy and great peace to those who act in extraordinary ways in times of great distress. Knowing this in advance will shield us from fear.
A Stoic will seize misfortune - in others or in herself - as a golden opportunity to do what nature commands us all to do: to do what is right and necessary, whatever the cost.
Russell McNeil, PhD, is the author of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: Selections Annotated and Explained by Skylight Paths Publishing.