Stoics don’t repress emotions, they put emotions into perspective.
Traditional masculinity is harmful. Or so says the American Psychological Association. The APA’s blog declares that, ” traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful.”
The APA’s claim raises many questions. Is that really all masculinity is? What positive aspects of masculinity can you think of?
But the question I’m interested in is whether Stoicism is bad for men.
What “Stoic” really means
There’s stoicism and there’s Stoicism. The capital “S” makes a difference.
Two thousand years ago, Epictetus told his students, “Don’t be like a stone statue.” Wait, what? I thought Mr. Spock is the closest thing to the Stoic Sage that fiction has ever seen.
Well, not really. Seneca wrote that the Sage has emotions, but he’s chill. In other words, Stoic philosophy is about putting emotions into perspective.
Learning to stay calm instead of flying off the handle is an essential skill. But the Stoic ideal goes beyond that. Being a man of virtue is the only thing the mythic Sage needs to be happy. He chooses to maintain his character even in the face of suffering.
But that’s a hard pill to swallow. Why follow a seemingly impossible ideal?
It gets even more challenging. Stoics also claim that nothing is inherently good or bad—it’s how you use it. This neutrality is often described as indifference, but that just means that external things can’t make you happy because happiness comes from within.
Besides, we don’t control anything except our deliberate choices, so why hinge our happiness on money, the weather, our jobs, or whether so-and-so likes us?
Emotions also are indifferent to our desires. We don’t always feel the way we want to feel. But emotions happen no matter what. Letting emotions get out of control, though, is different. Stoics try not to freak out.
We can learn to nip a freak out in the bud. Being aware of how we feel and why we feel that way, we can decide whether our motivations are reasonable and then act in a positive rather than destructive manner. This is especially important for anger, which is the cause of so much suffering.
Spock is cheating
But that’s a lot of work. Maybe it’s easier to fake it and repress our emotions, which is like a house newly painted on the outside while the inside is trashed. That’s stoic in the colloquial, lowercase “s” sense of the word.