Humility and Kindness: Following the Stoic Path to Wisdom

How does pride relate to suffering? Why should you be kind to others?

In The Daily Stoic, Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman explain that the Stoic philosophers advocated humility and kindness. The Stoics saw these qualities as a key to living wisely, which they believed was required for life’s ultimate goal—living virtuously.

Continue reading to understand why the Stoics valued humility and kindness.

Be Humble and Kind

The Stoics tried to manage their lives wisely. Wisdom entails applying good judgment to the way you live life so that you can stay focused on living virtuously. According to the authors, the first piece of Stoic advice for living wisely is to be humble and kind. By practicing humility and kindness, the Stoics believed you could spare yourself—and those around you—a lot of needless suffering and distraction. 

(Shortform note: Like Aristotle before them, the Stoics distinguished between two kinds of wisdom: theoretical wisdom (sophos or knowledge about reality) and practical wisdom (phronesis or knowing how to live well). Phronesis is sometimes equated with virtue as a whole: In this sense, all the virtues are the exercise of wisdom. This presents a difficulty because the Roman Stoics also had another term for wisdom: prudentia or “prudence.” Though Holiday and Hanselman only use the term wisdom, some modern Stoic thinkers believe prudence gets at the meaning better—to live prudently is to discipline yourself with reason. Bear this meaning in mind as you consider how you might follow the authors’ advice to manage your life with wisdom.)

To see the practical value of humility, consider those who aren’t humble—those who have an inflated opinion of themselves or who are convinced they deserve all the good things in life. People with this attitude are at risk of a more catastrophic fall when things do go wrong or when they misstep. Those who are humble, by contrast, don’t have far to fall, so they’re less prone to being devastated when things go wrong. 

(Shortform note: Not all pride leads to this kind of fall. Psychologists distinguish between good pride (authentic) and bad pride (hubristic). Authentic pride is vital for healthy self-esteem and leads to better relationships and positive behavior. Hubristic pride, on the other hand, is the kind described above—it’s associated with narcissism and selfish behavior.) 

Similarly, the Stoics believed it’s wise to be kind to those who are suffering hardship now because you may one day be in the same position. By showing kindness to others in need, you may receive kindness in return when you need it.

(Shortform note: Research shows that there are more benefits to practicing humility and kindness than merely reducing suffering and distraction. For instance, in two recent studies, people who showed traits associated with humility (low self-focus and high other-focus) were less likely to be depressed, more likely to have a healthy love life, and more likely to believe they could achieve their goals. Similarly, studies on kindness have shown that it can increase well-being and even lower blood pressure. Results like this suggest that practicing humility and kindness is as wise as the Stoics argue.)

Humility and Kindness: Following the Stoic Path to Wisdom

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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