March 22, 2017 – The Sign of True Education

“What is it then to be properly educated? It is learning to apply our natural preconceptions to the right things according to Nature, and beyond that to separate the things that lie within our power from those that don’t.” – Epictetus, Discourses, 1.22.9-10a

My friend Brian Niece recently invited me to be a guest on his podcast called Reimagining. The subject of the podcast was friendship. Brian and I met while he was co-pastor at the church my wife attended, and have since become very close. We share a love for critical thinking, and in spite of our differing positions on the existence of, or access to, a deity, we have more in common than not. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Humanities while I pursue my masters in philosophy.

I share this brief bit of history to put in context how much we both value education but with a rub. As we discussed how thinkers like Aristotle and Confucius defined friendship the conversation settled into how relationships can be lost because of differing opinions and beliefs. How we cease to see the other as someone who holds convictions as passionately as we do. At times the arrogance of being educated, or well read, deceives one into thinking that is the pinnacle of being educated. It’s not. The pinnacle of being educated centers around the knowledge, but also knowing how to use it so you don’t lose friends in the process.

Approaching this meditation from the position that humans are social animals, that relationships are the foundation of how we come to know the world and ourselves, it is inconsistent to call one’s self “properly educated” if the education does not entail an acceptance that it’s only as good as how it can be shared. We must be aware or relationships afford us access to others so that we can share what we know, and in turn learn from what they know.

Our power is in having the right perspective. We must be aware that the other also has that power. It is equally true that as we learn, so do they. We cannot force it on someone, but we can ensure, through friendship, a consistent access.


February 25, 2017 – The Smoke and Dust of Myth

“Keep a list before your mind of those who burned with anger and resentment about something, of even the most renowned for success, misfortune, evil deeds, or any special distinction. Then ask yourself, how did that work out? Smoke and dust, the stuff of simple myth trying to be legend . . .” –  Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 12.27

I needed to reset. I needed to take a break from my daily Stoic meditations. I needed to rethink habits. I needed to look back on what I’ve read and written, and determine where I stood.

When considering the meditation on February the 24th, “The Real Source of Harm”, I took a good long look at myself. Were these meditations making a difference? If not, why? Some situations, which I do not want to share, presented themselves and I did not approach them with a Stoic mind.

I had imprinted a habit of reading and writing, but not consuming. When I returned to the meditations, before me sat these beautiful words. What do I want to be known for? Anger? Impatience? Antagonism?

My good friend Brian Niece suggested ashes can represent two things:

Ashes symbolize the ultimate in futility. Everything will end. Death will happen. Things turn to dust every single day.

Ashes also inherently hold an impossible promise. From death, life will grow. From ruin, rebirth will form. From nothing, something will rise.

Look at these ashes of death; new life will grow from this!

I like this because it takes a different spin on Marcus’ meditation. I do, in fact, burn myself through, for example, anger. What is left are the remnants of the person I wanted to be. Yet I can still build from the ruins. It may take some time and effort, but there is not absence. The ash serves as a reminder to us of how not to do things. The ash also allows us something within which to grow anew.