“Tranquility can’t be grasped except by those who have reached an unwavering and firm power of judgment — the rest constantly fall and rise in their decisions, wavering in a state of alternately rejecting and accepting things. What is the cause of this back and forth? It’s because nothing is clear and they rely on the most uncertain guide — common opinion.” — Seneca, Moral Letters, 95.57b-58a
In his famous commencement address, Steve Jobs warned the new graduates to not let their choices in life be guided by dogma. Considering the short nature of such speeches, Jobs must have felt it to be a very important piece of advice that he must give to the new graduates. Seneca too, warns us not to let the common opinion guide our thoughts and our actions. According to him, this is the main reason why people without clarity of judgment are confused in life. People are confused about which project to pursue and keep alternating between multiple choices which results in zero progress in all the projects they were trying to pursue. We are confused about which school to go to, which job to take, what to have for dinner, and so on. All this confusion tires our mind and we feel hazy all the time. And because of this, we simply rely on the common opinion about things. We simply choose the job or the school based on what the people around us are telling us instead of doing our own research. We simply do the tasks given to us at work instead of choosing the most essential tasks ourselves. We live our lives based on the opinions of other people and hence never achieve peace in our own minds. We find ourselves constantly running on a treadmill that we don’t stop because we wouldn’t know what to do if it stopped. We delegate our own lives to other people because we feel we can’t live our own lives. We are stuck between accepting and rejecting things perpetually. Seneca reminds us that we can only achieve true peace in our minds and our lives by being firm in our judgment. We must make our choices based on our own research and knowledge. Of course, we must listen to the opinions of other people but we must not do things simply because they are the common advice. Unwavering judgment of our thoughts, actions, and choices will put our minds at ease. We will finally be able to stop being confused and can choose to stop the treadmill.
This article is a part of my Stoic Musings challenge, inspired by the book “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, where I take a quote from the book and reflect on it, every day.