Compassion in Stoicism

Joy for humans lies in human actions

Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.

🏛️ Theory

What does compassion mean in the Stoic sense?

It doesn’t mean experiencing someone else's pain. That doesn’t help them or us.

Stoic compassion is oriented towards knowledge. It’s about understanding and caring for other people. This can be done without feeling negative emotions. Instead, it can be motivated by concern for others.

This kind of concern should always be present in the Stoic’s life. After all, we’re rational and social creatures. We’re made to live and work together. Our relationships with other people are the best part of our lives.

As Marcus Aurelius wrote:

Joy for humans lies in human actions.

Human actions: kindness to others, contempt for the senses, the interrogation of appearances, observation of nature and of events in nature.

Meditations 8.26

We should want the best for others. In that wish we can find motivation and joy. The impetus to treat them well and the sense of living harmoniously with others.

Yes – dealing with other people is one of life’s most challenging and tragic aspects. The Stoics offer us tools to deal with negative emotions associated with that too. But we shouldn’t forget that Stoicism is primarily a positive project. It’s focused on living well with others – whether family, friends, citizens or strangers – to the best of our ability. It’s in that activity that we can find a smooth life.

🎯 Action

Choose one way you’ll show compassion in your actions today – and follow through.

🔗 Resources

🏛️ We’re thrilled to announce a series of meditations entitled Deeper Connections with Brittany Polat. It’s all about using Stoicism to enrich your relationships – with yourself, friends, loved ones and coworkers. Listen here.

📖 And check out Brittany Polat’s Journal Like a Stoic.

What relationships is Stoicism most powerful?

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