The Daily Stoic: Duty

Please note: Most of the text in these notes is owned by Ryan Holiday. I am posting them here for purely educational purposes. I condensed the book myself, but I don’t own any of the content. Some of my notes are paraphrased, but most are written verbatim.

You can buy the book ‘The Daily Stoic’ by clicking here.


The book is sectioned into three parts:

  • Part 1: The Discipline of Perception
  • Part 2: The Discipline of Action
  • Part 3: The Discipline of Will

Note: The date following each block of text indicates the source from the book, which is organised into a ‘message a day’ style.

In this post, I will share my condensed version of the most important take-away messages and instructions from:

Part 2: The Discipline of Action


Duty

  • The Stoics believed that every person, animal and thing has a purpose or place in nature.
  • They also believed that every person and action was part of a larger system – everyone had a job, a specific duty. Even people who do bad things – they were doing their job of being evil because evil is a part of life.
  • The most important part of this system is that you, the student of Stoicism, have the most important job: to be good, and wise, and to remain the person that philosophy wished to make us. (01/07)

  • “Never shirk the proper dispatch of your duty, no matter if you are freezing or hot, groggy or well-rested, vilified or praised, not even if dying or pressed by other demands. Even dying is one of the important assignments of life and, in this as in all else, make the most of your resources to do well the duty at hand.” – Marcus Aurelius (02/07)

  • Instead of thinking about things that you have to do, think about them as things that you get to do.
  • Today, don’t try to impose your will on the world. Instead see yourself as fortunate to recieve and respond to the will in the world. (03/07)

  • “Protect your own good in all that you do, and as concerns everything else take what is given as far as you can make reasoned use of it. If you don’t, you’ll be unlucky, prone to failure, hindered and stymied.” – Epictetus
  • The goodness inside you is like a small flame, and you are its keeper. It’s your job, today and every day, to ensure that it has enough fuel, that it doesn’t get obstructed or snuffed out. (04/07)

  • “Good people will do what they find honorable to do, even if it requires hard work; they’ll do it even if it causes them injury; they’ll do it even if it will bring danger. Again, they won’t do what they find base, even if it brings wealth, pleasure, or power. Nothing will deter them from what is honorable, and nothing will lure them into what is base.” – Seneca
  • If doing good was easy, everyone would do it. And if doing bad wasn’t tempting or attractive, nobody would do it. (05/07)

  • “On those mornings you struggle with getting up, keep this thought in mind—I am awakening to the work of a human being. Why then am I annoyed that I am going to do what I’m made for, the very things for which I was put into this world? Or was I made for this, to snuggle under the covers and keep warm? It’s so pleasurable. Were you then made for pleasure? In short, to be coddled or to exert yourself?” – Marcus Aurelius
  • We cannot be of service to ourselves, to other people, or to the world unless we get up and get working. (06/07)

  • “This is what you should teach me, how to be like Odysseus—how to love my country, wife and father, and how, even after suffering shipwreck, I might keep sailing on course to those honorable ends.” – Seneca
  • The crucial part of the story isn’t if Homer was really the author, what a cyclops is or how the Trogan Horse worked. It’s the moral.
  • In reading, you’re studying how to live – to be a good human being. (07/07)

  • “Character, the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life – is the source from which self-respect springs.” – Joan Didion
  • Don’t waste time complaining about what you haven’t got or how things have worked out.
  • You must be the owner of your life. Character can be developed, and when it is, self-respect will ensue. Taking responsibility is the first step on that journey. (08/07)

  • It’s the study of philosophy that cultivates our reason and ethics so that we can do our job well.
  • We can’t just wing it – too many people are counting on us to do it right. (09/07)

  • “But what does Socrates say? ‘Just as one person delights in improving his farm, and another his horse, so I delight in attending to my own improvement day by day.’” – Epictetus (11/07)

  • “In your actions, don’t procrastinate. In your conversations, don’t confuse. In your thoughts, don’t wander. In your soul, don’t be passive or aggressive. In your life, don’t be all about business.” – Marcus Aurelius (12/07)

  • “One person, on doing well by others, immediately accounts the expected favor in return. Another is not so quick, but still considers the person a debtor and knows the favor. A third kind of person acts as if not conscious of the deed, rather like a vine producing a cluster of grapes without making further demands, like a horse after its race, or a dog after its walk, or a bee after making its honey. Such a person, having done a good deed, won’t go shouting from rooftops but simply moves on to the next deed just like the vine produces another bunch of grapes in the right season.” – Marcus Aurelius (13/07)

  • Natural ability and quick comprehension can be quite dangerous if left alone. Early promise can lead to overconfidence and lead to bad habits.
  • Those who pick things up quickly are notorious for skipping the basic lessons and ignoring the fundamentals.
  • Don’t get carried away. Take it slow. Train with humility. (14/07)

  • “When you’ve done well and another has benefited by it, why like a fool do you look for a third thing on top – credit for the good deed or a favor in return?” – Marcus Aurelius
  • The answer to the question “Why did you do the right thing?” should always be “Because it was the right thing to do.” (15/07)

  • “To what service is my soul committed? Constantly ask yourself this and thoroughly examine yourself by seeing how you relate to that part called the ruling principle. Whose soul do I have now? Do I have that of a child, a youth . . . a tyrant, a pet, or a wild animal?” – Marcus Aurelius
  • How does what you do every day reflect, in some way, the values you claim to care about?
  • Are you acting in a way that’s consistent with something you value, or are you wandering, unmoored to anything other than your own ambition? (16/07)

  • “My reasoned choice is as indifferent to the reasoned choice of my neighbor, as to his breath and body. However much we’ve been made for cooperation, the ruling reason in each of us is master of its own affairs. If this weren’t the case, the evil in someone else could become my harm, and God didn’t mean for someone else to control my misfortune.” – Marcus Aurelius (18/07)

  • “Nothing is noble if it’s done unwillingly or under compulsion. Every noble deed is voluntary.” – Seneca (22/07)

  • “Receive without pride, let go without attachment.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • Receive Honors And Slights Exactly The Same Way (23/07)

  • “Whenever disturbing news is delivered to you, bear in mind that no news can ever be relevant to your reasoned choice. Can anyone break news to you that your assumptions or desires are wrong? No way! But they can tell you someone died—even so, what is that to you?” – Epictetus
  • It can be easy to get distracted, and even consumed by horrible news from around the world.
  • The proper response of the Stoic to these events isn’t not to care, but mindless, meaningless sympathy does very little either (and often comes at the cost of one’s serenity.)
  • If there’s something you can actually do to help these suffering people, then, yes, the disturbing news (and your reaction to it) has relevance to your reasoned choice.
  • If emoting is the end of your participation, then you ought to get back to your own individual duty. (24/07)

  • “When you see someone often flashing their rank or position, or someone whose name is often bandied about in public, don’t be envious; such things are bought at the expense of life. . . . Some die on the first rungs of the ladder of success, others before they can reach the top, and the few that make it to the top of their ambition through a thousand indignities realize at the end it’s only for an inscription on their gravestone.” – Seneca
  • Workaholics always make excuses for their selfishness.
  • “Is it really so pleasant to die in harness?” – Seneca
  • “Work is what horses die of. Everybody should know that.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (25/07)

  • “Often injustice lies in what you aren’t doing, not only in what you are doing.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • In some of humanity’s most shameful moments, guilt wasn’t limited to perpetrators but to ordinary citizens who, for a multitude of reasons, declined to get involved.
  • It’s that old line: all evil needs to prevail is for good men to do nothing.
  • It’s not enough to just not do evil. You must also be a force for good in the world, as best you can. (26/07)

  • “Indeed, if you find anything in human life better than justice, truth, self-control, courage—in short, anything better than the sufficiency of your own mind, which keeps you acting according to the demands of true reason and accepting what fate gives you outside of your own power of choice—I tell you, if you can see anything better than this, turn to it heart and soul and take full advantage of this greater good you’ve found.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • We’ve all chased things that we thought would matter – money, success, love.
  • But what do we find when we actually attain these? Not that they’re empty or meaningless, but that they’re never enough.
  • But there’s something better out there: real virtue. Virtue is the one good that reveals itself to be more than we expect and something you can’t have in degrees (you either have it, or you don’t). (27/07)

  • “Some people are sharp and others dull; some are raised in a better environment, others in worse, the latter, having inferior habits and nurture, will require more by way of proof and careful instruction to master these teachings and to be formed by them—in the same way that bodies in a bad state must be given a great deal of care when perfect health is sought.” – Mustonius Rufus
  • Not everyone has had the advantages that you’ve had. That’s not to say your life is easy – just that you had a head start over some people. That’s why it’s our duty to be patient with others. (28/07)

  • “The person who has practiced philosophy as a cure for the self becomes great of soul, filled with confidence, invincible—and greater as you draw near.” – Seneca (29/07)

  • “Trust me, real joy is a serious thing. Do you think someone can, in the charming expression, blithely dismiss death with an easy disposition? Or swing open the door to poverty, keep pleasures in check, or meditate on the endurance of suffering? The one who is comfortable with turning these thoughts over is truly full of joy, but hardly cheerful. It’s exactly such a joy that I would wish for you to possess, for it will never run dry once you’ve laid claim to its source.” – Seneca
  • We often throw around the word ‘joy’, but should actually use ‘cheer’ in it’s place. Cheerfullness is not true joy, it’s just surface level.
  • To Seneca, joy is a deep state of being. It’s what we feel inside us, and has little to do with laughing or smiling.
  • So when someone says the Stoics are depressive, they’re missing the point. Who cares if someone is bubbly when times are good? What kind of accomplishment is that?
  • But can you be fully content with your life, bravely face what life has in store one day to the next, bounce back from every kind of adversity without losing a step?
  • Can you be a source of strength of inspiration to others around you? That’s Stoic joy – the joy that comes from purpose, excellence, and duty. (30/07)

  • “How disgraceful is the lawyer whose dying breath passes while at court, at an advanced age, pleading for unknown litigants and still seeking the approval of ignorant spectators.” – Seneca
  • We mustn’t get so wrapped up in our work that we think we’re immun from the reality of aging and life.
  • Who wants to be the person who can never let go? Is there so little meaning in your life that your only pursuit is work until you’re eventually carted off in a coffin?
  • Take pride in your work. But it is not all. (31/07)

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