Thursday, November 22, 2012

Stoic Thanksgiving

     The Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius counseled himself to be brave in misfortune. Indeed, even to give thanks:
“Oh, wretched I, to whom this mischance is happened! nay, happy I, to whom this thing being happened, I can continue without grief; neither wounded by that which is present, nor in fear of that which is to come. For as for this, it might have happened unto any man, but any man having such a thing befallen him, could not have continued without grief. Why then should that rather be an unhappiness, than this a happiness?”
     Though the trajectory of American civilization seems to have turned sharply downward, it is worth remembering how fortunate we still are. People of my generation have parents who grew up in the Great Depression and World War II. Very few Americans my age or younger have known comparable difficulties. Our problems are more subtle, more of decaying morality amid plenty than of existential military threat, more of obesity than of starvation. For a time at least, life can be rich in learning and friendship and service. For now, we have leisure to live the life of the mind. If we discern a need to prepare for worse times, at least we can be thankful for the chance to get ready. And then, like the Stoic emperor, we can be thankful again if we prove equal to the task that ultimately confronts us.

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