“I view with pleasure and approval the way you keep on at your studies and sacrifice everything to your single-minded efforts to make yourself every day a better man. I do not merely urge you to persevere in this; I actually implore you to.”
In this early selection from Letters From a Stoic, Seneca advises us how to act in regards to the masses. He’s writing this chapter as a teacher, encouraging us not to distance ourselves from the masses, because we want to relate to them to teach. The part of this that rung true to be was to “make yourself every day a better man.”
When I first became a father in 2008 I started a blog about being a stay-at-home dad. I’ve always read a lot of blogs, some of which were the “mommy blogs.” At the time these parenting blogs were in the genre I loosely call “I’ve had a long day, pour me a glass of wine and hear me complain about my kids.” Some of them were funny, but all of them included complaints and so that’s how I began writing.
And there is plenty to complain about. Diapers, sleeping, babies doing things that babies do. It’s all part of the trade-off known as parenting, but for me – and many of these bloggers – we were too immature to realize this. I was 26 when our first daughter was born and not nearly enough of an adult. I could have been, as Seneca suggests, “a better man.”
These mommy bloggers were showing me one way to respond to parenting. But there were others too, all of which involved a system. I love systems. My wife and I tried an eating system earlier this summer. I’m taking a Coursera course right now. Even these stoic posts are part of a system. System thinking reduces the number of choices we have and set defaults for what we do. Systems are also what can make it easier for us to grow, and the system I use for being a better father is the four bodies approach I first heard from James Altucher.
Altucher sees himself as having four bodies rather than one to take care of. There are the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual bodies.
Seneca writes that “One’s life should be a compromise between the ideal and the popular morality.” Altucher is categorizing the things that Seneca would suggest we always improve. Seneca wants us to push each of these areas forward, but not to the neglect of other things and not to the point of “ideal.” We don’t need to be a zen master or marathon runner. We do need to be willing to improve the different areas. One byproduct of this will be some new parent seeing what you are doing and maybe trying your system.
Making ourselves better each day can be difficult when we don’t know how or choose to “join the masses.” If you want to find one thing, try a book.