Author Rolf Dobelli writes in his book The Art of the Good Life
that as the world becomes more complex and interconnected, the greater the likelihood of new and unexpected negative events.
For Dobelli, this means it’s increasingly important to invest in your “mental fortress” – the set of attitudes that emotionally prepares you for loss.
Whatever happens, your thoughts, and how you interpret loss and setbacks, can never be taken from you. Your mental fortress is “a piece of freedom that can never be assailed.”
As Dobelli notes, the ancient practical philosophy of Stoicism
can serve as a guide for building your mental fortress.
He tells the story of the Stoic philosopher Boethius to illuminate Stoicism’s core lessons.
Boethius was a successful intellectual and senator who occupied high offices in 6th century Rome. His passion was translating books from Greek to Latin. But one day, he was accused of supporting a conspiracy against the king, and was sentenced to death.
He lost everything: his money, his houses, his library, and his freedom.
The book is a conversation between Boethius himself and Lady Philosophy. She shares the following three lessons to help him cope with his losses and upcoming execution.
1. Accept the existence of fate. Those who experience highs will also experience lows. Don’t be too concerned with whether you’re ascending or descending because it can all be turned on its head.
2. Everything you own, value, and love is ephemeral: your health, your partner, your children, your friends, your house, your money. The best perspective to have is that these things are on loan to you, and can be taken away at any time: “By death, if nothing else.”
3. Remember that all sweet things are tinged with bitterness: “Whining is misplaced.”
Dobelli points to Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl as a more modern example of someone who embodied the Stoic philosophy and built a secure mental fortress.
“We who lived through concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”