Seneca part 20: Walk the Talk

Words can be powerful, but actions are what really matters. More and more people call themselves Stoics, yet some might lack commitment in their actions. Seneca, a controversial Stoic himself, warns us to practise what we preach. We should ‘walk the talk’. In his twentieth moral letter, Seneca says this:

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Prove your words by your deeds. (…) philosophy teaches us to act, not to speak; it exacts of every man that he should live according to his own standards, that his life should not be out of harmony with his words, and that, further, his inner life should be of one hue and not out of harmony with all his activities. This, I say, is the highest duty and the highest proof of wisdom, – that deed and word should be in accord, that a man should be equal to himself under all conditions, and always the same.

Consistency is key: choose a path to follow and then follow it. Don’t get distracted by fame or fortune. Don’t let irrational passions lead you astray.

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It is indeed a hard undertaking, and I do not say that the philosopher can always keep the same pace. But he can always travel the same path. (…) You should lay hold, once for all, upon a single norm to live by, and should regulate your whole life according to this norm.

You may worry, though, that you cannot maintain a comfortable life if you only focus on the path of Stoicism. The opposite is true. You may not be able to maintain a big house or a fancy wardrobe, but you will find much greater riches. Among these are contentment, true friendship, and freedom.

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perhaps you will learn by the bounty of poverty what you cannot learn by your own bounty. Poverty will keep for you your true and tried friends; you will be rid of the men who were not seeking you for yourself, but for something which you have. (…) for they [actions of voluntary poverty] contain a sense of freedom from care, – and without this nothing is pleasant.

To start experiencing this, you can try to live in voluntary poverty – even for just a day. It can strengthen your spirit. Nature has not commanded us to be wealthy in money and possession. It has not ordered us to gain fame and status. No, by Nature, we require very little. Remember this:

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No man is born rich. Every man, when he first sees light, is commanded to be content with milk and rags. Such is our beginning, and yet kingdoms are all too small for us!

So don’t just say you are a Stoic. Don’t just believe it is a good path. Act on it. Continue to follow your Stoic Journey. If you think it is beneficial, then actually adopt a Stoic lifestyle. Walk the talk.

This article is part of the weekly Seneca series. New articles will be published every Thursday. Be sure you don’t miss any of them by subscribing here. Thanks!

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