Letters 5: Don’t Be Too Different

In this series of blog posts I attempt to translate the Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English. In Letter 5, he discussed why what you think and feel is more important that how you look. This is what it means to be truly different.

I don’t recommend that you try to show how different you are from others by dressing or living in a strange way. Even if you are different there is little point in acting in this way. All it will do is make people reluctant to engage with you. And what’s the point of that? If people don’t want to spend time with you then you’ll never be able to help them to improve their lives.

What’s important is how we think and feel: this is what should be different. We want people to imitate this, without believing they need to dress or live in an unusual way too.

Having studied philosophy you’ll have gained an insight into human reason and rationality. You should be able to sympathise with others and in turn be sociable too. And you know about living according to nature too. So you’ll appreciate that while you should live a simple life, you shouldn’t feel that every day is a struggle. You want people to admire you as you are acting as an example for others to follow. And you want them to feel you are still a normal person who they can get along with too.

Another thing: remember that fear follows hope. What do I mean by this? Well, both fear and hope take your thoughts out of the present moment. Your mind wanders to the past or future. You can’t change the past and the future hasn’t happened yet. Best to focus on the here and now.

Hope is irrational. You are trying to see things for a benefit they could bring, rather than seeing things for how they are. And it is good to not be too occupied on the future. Seneca actually recommends the opposite of hope, that is, actively picturing a whole host of awful things happening– a friend dying, getting a major illness. That way, when they happen, we will be prepared. By hoping, we set ourselves up for fear. To use your example of a business venture– if you consistently picture the venture succeeding, you place too great an emphasis on the success of the venture, something that has no good within it.

Take care.

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