Stoicism is the ideal model for living successfully in this highly stressful world. For the entrepreneur, being stoic is a godsend. This ideal was written of by the important Roman philosophers, such as Marcus Aurelius and Seneca. These great Roman men taught their students about the value of Stoicism, but many modern scholars forget to reference one named Cato. He has had a profound influence on the world. Julius Caesar wished to have Cato killed. President George Washington sought to emulate Cato. For over two thousand years, Cato has been the subject of poems, plays, songs and many times has been depicted in fine art.
His influence spans over history and remains so to this very day.
Even so, most readers have probably never heard of Cato. This is partly because, his name was truly Marcus Porcius, or Cato the Younger. His namesake has been the primary goal, so Cato had to learn to be adaptable and thus brought together the local families for harmonious voting, both for or against the government. Demonstrating what the poet Dante once said, “And what earthly man was more worthy to signify God than Cato?” But why should this matter today?
Because the Roman Cato is both a tale of caution and a shining example of Stoicism. Throughout his life, Cato taught many valuable lessons, but these five are considered among the greatest related to the philosophy of Stoicism.
Understand Your Legacy Isn’t Yours To Control
Cato understood how to build a public image, possibly more skillfully than any Roman of his day. His belief in Stoicism made him a formidable opponent against anyone, even Caesar himself. No man or god king could fight on even ground when Cato understood that nothing was within his ability to control. Everything in life that human beings value, ultimately is outside of our ability to control it.
Even those who live successful lives, leave a mighty legacy and become honored by your peers, even they will likely be unhappy with some aspects of their lives. Therefore the stoic individual does not place a great deal of value in the material world; rather they look to become a virtuous person. Cato sought to emulate this ideal in his life and spent two decades creating a legacy as a politician.
That legacy continues to have influence, but Cato never made any attempts to become immortalized, other than after he died. When his life was no longer his to control, Cato became an object that the public controlled and idealized. Whether or not he would have wanted this is debatable.
Mastering The Power Of Gesturing
In the information age, everything is on overload. Those in positions of public power must compete for the attentions of the general body politic. Cato lived during times in Rome when the city was saturated with politics, rhetoric, crowds and speakers on a daily basis. The culture of influence was evolving at a steady pace, but it wasn’t becoming more clearly defined.
Cato believed that actions could be understood more readily, than the words that motivated them. So he developed a political style that utilized gestures and symbolism to garner influence with the public. This style incorporated various types of gesturing, but also things like walking with an entourage, barefooted or going commando. Cato surrounded himself with other people so that his public presence would appear more aligned with the people.
Through the power of gesturing, the public felt they knew everything they needed to about Cato. His reputation was built on public displays of who he was to the people, making these gestures more powerful than any speech or vote would have been alone. Cato wanted everyone to see the parallels between philosophy and politics so that a gesture against or for an issue could be made at any time. Both literally and symbolically.
Using Pain As Your Teacher
In his early Stoic training, Cato walked the streets of Rome in strange clothing, hoping people would laugh at him. He also learned to eat only what the poorest of men ate each day. He wore no shoes or anything on his head in the rain or the sunshine. The point of such exercises was simple; Cato knew that pain and suffering can help build self-control, as well as endurance. He was learning to be indifferent to things going on, outside of his personal conscience. He wanted to be able to endure anything or any extreme, but not be impacted by it.
This strange period of practices paid off for Cato. The great Stoic named Seneca tells of a day when Cato was struck and shoved at the public bathing area. Once the fight was over, the other man attempts to apologize, but Cato refused to accept this from him. Cato said to his offender only,”I don’t even remember the fight.” This is a unique example of how using pain as your teacher, can be a powerful thing.
Never Compromise Ever
Cato was taught there are no shades of grey, this is a Stoic principle. There is no more or less of anything, there is no more good or less of bad things. Being at the bottom of the ocean or a foot beneath the water, a person would still be drowning. Therefore, all virtues are one and alike as virtues, as all vices are alike as vices. Cato took this principle into his life as a politician. He refused to compromise in any form, such that takers of bribes would say,”We can’t all be Catos.”
This was a showing of high character on his part. His votes could not be bought, nor could fortunes convince him to send men into war. Cato felt the charisma of character, could neither be fought or bought. Although not all men could be Cato, they could join him in being uncompromising. This was one of his great successes in the argument for a Stoic philosophy.
Fear Nothing Ever
On a certain election day, Cato and his brother in law woke early to head to the polling sites. Both were public and on record as being against the leading politicians in the election. These men bore grudges against Cato but were also willing to raise armies against him. On the way to the polls, the pair were ambushed, and one companion was stabbed to death. The murdered friend happened to be Cato’s torch bearer, so all went dark around them. The darkness hindered the attackers from being more successful in the ambush, so they were fought off by Cato and his brother in law.
The situation reminded Cato that politicians are only powerful, once they assume power. If this was an example of what they do without power to him, imagine the monsters they might become once they become elected. It became more important to tell the public what happened; Cato would show his wounds and announce himself on the side of liberty and justice. This he vowed as long as he was still alive to do so. After the attack, his relative was afraid and hid himself locked in his home, but Cato walked alone without escort to the polls. Thus showing that fear cannot cloud the mind without our permission. Choosing not to be afraid, makes fear vanish by virtue of our belief.