The Work and Reward of Thinking

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Henry Ford said, “Thinking is the hardest kind of work – which is probably the reason so few engage in it.” Some things haven’t changed much in a century. For you contrarians friendly to the chore of thinking, this column is a gift for you.

I read every day, my reward for surviving another turn of the Earth, an indulgence in one of life’s great pleasures. Not wanting to work my mind too hard, I tend to wallow in the easy reading of fiction for the vicarious escape into a story. But I also dabble in more serious books.

Quite by accident I stumbled onto a book you should know about, a treasure titled “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday and Stephan Hanselman. This book deserves a very special spot on your bookshelf.

For each day of the year, “The Daily Stoic” has a one-page reading with an excerpt from an ancient Greek or Roman philosopher like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, Diogenes Laertius and others, plus an interpretation in contemporary language with examples. These brief golden nuggets focus on morality, wisdom dealing with others, inner strength and recognizing the things we can control.

It is intriguing to see how deep thinkers a couple thousand years ago found the essence of human behavior still relevant today, and that so few of us have learned what they tried to teach. These pearls of wisdom are fuel for thinking, wondering whether we can put the idea to work to make ourselves better and stronger.

The authors organized “The Daily Stoic” in three major sections, with each month a specific subsection and each day of the month a different topic within the subsection. Here’s a high level peek:

PART I: THE DISCIPLINE OF PERCEPTION

January – Clarity

February – Passions and Emotions

March – Awareness

April – Unbiased Thought

PART II: THE DISCIPLINE OF ACTION

May – Right Action

June – Problem Solving

July – Duty

August – Pragmatism

PART III: THE DISCIPLINE OF WILL

September – Fortitude and Resilience

October – Virtue and Kindness

November – Acceptance

December – Meditation on Mortality

Most Americans would likely be more interested in entertainment than the thinking called for in this book, just as they would probably consider ancient philosophers irrelevant, just as they would be ignorant of how much of the foundation of our western civilization came from the Greeks and Romans.

So I don’t expect everyone will receive this gladly. Besides, taking an honest measure of ourselves, confronting our own shortcomings and reflecting on the hard work of becoming stronger is not for everyone.

As for me, I am still devouring this book. I couldn’t patiently wait for each day. I skipped around “The Daily Stoic,” skimmed over pages of little interest, felt a sharp stab where the ancients hit the bull’s-eye of my character flaws, and was prompted to think quite a bit. I get bored with it now and then and set it aside, then pick it up again later to hunt for new stabs.

Here’s what I think of this book; I just might start over reading “The Daily Stoic” from scratch the next Jan. 1, a 5-10-minute page a day, with mind open to self-improvement but knowing I will only change myself in baby steps, and then I could repeat the process to try again every year for the rest of my life. Since the book has abundant wisdom and my well of imperfections seems bottomless, many repetitions would be a good thing. At least for me.

And that is why I thought to make this gift for you.

You’re welcome.

[Terry Garlock occasionally contributes to The Citizen. tlg.opinion@gmail.com]

1 COMMENT

  1. This reminds me of a George Orwell observation:

    “Two percent of the people think; three percent of the people think they think; and ninety-five percent of the people would rather die than think.”