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Think for yourself


Seneca's dissertation "Of a Happy Life" is as much a defense of Stoic principles, as it is an argument against other competing philosophies, particularly the Epicureans. In it, Seneca covers several major Stoic themes and argues that Happiness accompanies a virtuous life.

"...we should not, like sheep, follow the flock that has gone before us..."


Seneca begins his discussion with some advice and a caution. If you want to be happy, have a goal and plan to get you there. Stay on that path and don't be led astray by the crowd, no matter how popular that crowd appears to be. In telling us to "...disengage from the herd..." he encourages us to use reason and ask what course of action is best - not just popular. Having little faith in popular thought and action, Seneca goes on to declare "I will do nothing because of public opinion, but everything because of conscience."

In Letters to a Stoic (VII), Seneca warns that an impressionable mind - without a firm grasp on what is right - is too easily impacted by the majority and must be saved from the influence of the crowd. Look to yourself...[look to philosophy]...then choose to associate with those who can improve your character. Afterwards, associate with those that you can improve. As you teach, so too will you learn.

For Seneca, a  reasoning mind is

  • independent,

  • honourable,

  • fearless

  • and committed.

Use reason to seek the truth, make right judgements and determine the appropriate course of action.

Watch what people do; it is more revealing than what they say. Then evaluate the consequences of their actions. Epictetus


Take pleasure in virtue. There is no additional reward for a life of virtue: virtue is its own reward.

Lead a virtuous life and happiness will follow.

References and Further Reading: "Of a Happy Life" by Seneca the Younger,  translated by Aubrey Stewart, published online by Passerino

Think about this in your environment


There are many dangers to following the crowd. For example, in a business meeting, following the crowd (Groupthink) can erode the true value of teamwork and lead to mediocrity. The pressure for group consensus has the potential to minimize the exploration of alternatives, critiques, and opposing opinions. People become reluctant to share their opinion because of peer pressure to conform. Achieving mediocrity to satisfy group consensus is not a substitute for excellence! What might Seneca do? Use reasoning to: define/examine objectives; explore alternatives; examine the consequences of each course of action; encourage critiques; and test assumptions.

In politics, passion often overwhelms reason. For many, it is easier to join in and follow the crowd without thinking about the consequences of their actions. Mob mentalities rarely promote free speech. tolerance, or democratic ideals. 

What's the

Take Away

Avoid Groupthink. For business meetings, you can promote innovation by encouraging an exploration of alternatives and creating a constructive environment for critiques. This can be accomplished by assigning a "devil's advocate" early in the process to identify issues that may be overlooked and need to be addressed. Embrace the process as an opportunity to enhance the project (or determine its feasibility in relation to other projects). Share this important responsibility amongst team members from project to project. Executed properly, the devil's advocate actually becomes an advocate for success!

Think for yourself. In politics, passion often leads to quick decisions that may not address the root problem or downstream consequences. Resist assenting to your first impressions. Use reason to evaluate the issue and asses the consequences of intended actions. Maintain justice and integrity throughout the process. The end does not justify the means.


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