How Stoics deal with their frenemies
(Part three of four)
Long ago, I was betrayed by someone I trusted, and the shock interfered with my work,” says Rico (not his real name), the leader in a family business founded by his father. Rico lives by the maxims in Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hansman’s book “The Daily Stoic.”
“I should have been more careful,” he says. “The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius says, ‘There’s nothing worse than a wolf befriending sheep. Avoid false friendship at all costs.’”
“Through the years, I learned to be more wary, and to vet, double-vet, triple-vet potential business partners,” Rico continues.
He heeds the advice of the imperial adviser Epictetus: “Don’t let the force of the impression carry you away. Let me see who you are and where you are from—let me put you to the test.”
“But I no longer dwell on anger, self-pity, or revenge,” says Rico. “The philosopher Seneca says that crimes often return to those who commit them. Karma indeed struck that former friend, who went bankrupt.”
“You once told me that overthinking can often lead to mental health problems, and that we should control how we think,” Rico says.
Marcus Aurelius also said this long ago: “When you are distressed by an external thing, it’s not the thing itself that troubles you, but only your judgment of it. And you can wipe this out at a moment’s notice.”
“At my age, the only thinking I do is how to grow the business, empower our people, and make society better,” says Rico.
Marcus Aurelius again: “Don’t lament [things] and don’t get agitated. You have something in you more powerful and divine than what causes the bodily passions and pulls you like a mere puppet. What thoughts now occupy your mind? Is it not fear, suspicion, desire, or something like that? You shouldn’t give circumstances the power to rouse anger, for they don’t care at all.”
“Many people got agitated in the recent elections,” says Rico. “Friendships were broken, family ties sundered, business bonds destroyed. I voted based on my conscience, but whether we are yellow or red should not be a reason to break friendships. At my age, friends are especially important, and so is peace of mind.”
Marcus Aurelius also said, “How satisfying it is to dismiss and block out any upsetting impression, and immediately to have peace.”
Another way to peace is to rejoice in others’ good fortune.
“When I was younger, I used to envy those with bigger businesses, with more money,” says Rico. “It is hard to feel happy for friends who have what you don’t, but when I turned 50, I decided that envy was eating away at my soul. My wife turned to religion, while I decided to be a humanist. I learned to be genuinely glad for others if they did well, and I felt more at peace.
“I advise my fellow entrepreneurs to do the same,” Rico continues. “Stop coveting more, stop being ‘plastic’ [or fake] to others while secretly wishing them ill, and you will sleep better at night. Seneca tells us to celebrate the advancement of our friends, as if it were our very own, to maintain inner virtue.”
“Entrepreneurs are said to be never satisfied, and in many ways, this is key to their success,” says Rico. “But don’t give in to greed—it’s the downfall of many businesses.”
Epictetus used this metaphor: “When children stick their hand down a narrow goody jar they can’t get their full fist out and start crying. Drop a few treats and you will get it out! Curb your desire—don’t set your heart on so many things and you will get what you need.”
“But I will never retire,” Rico says. “I still have so many plans. I am working on another venture, expansion of our business in nearby countries. Seneca says that ‘leisure without study is death, a tomb for the living.’ Substitute ‘study’ for ‘work’ and that’s how I feel.
“For me, work is therapeutic. But I try not to worry about the future.”
Marcus Aurelius also said, “Don’t fill your mind with all the bad things that might still happen. Stay focused on the present situation.”
“I also try to show people that I care for them,” adds Rico, and quotes Seneca: “If you would be loved, love.”
(To be concluded next week)
Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” at Lazada or Shopee, or the ebook at Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at [email protected]
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