Letters from a Stoic 29 – Summary and Key Takeaways

            In letters from a stoic 29, Seneca talks about how to correct people’s fault. He is talking in the letter about their friend Marcellinus who seemed to be willful in recognizing his mistakes. “He seldom comes to see me, for no other reason than that he is afraid to hear the truth, and at present he is removed from my danger of hearing it; for one must not talk to a man unless he is willing to listen.” We all have friends that become defensive when we point out their mistakes and I’m sure we have been at some point in our lives. Seneca said when people act this way, the best thing to do is wait until we can sense they are ready to listen or when they are starting to recognize their shortcomings. In the book “How to Win and Influence People”, author Dale Carnegie said that if we argue with people about their mistakes 9 out of 10 they will be more convinced that what they are right. The key, according to Seneca, is patience and timing. 

            In the last part of the letter, Seneca talks about the pointlessness of winning social approval. Quoting from Epicurus “I have never wished to cater to the crowd; for what I know, they do not approve, and what they approve, I do not k n o w” . He further went on to explain “It takes trickery to win popular approval; and you must needs make yourself like unto them; they will withhold their approval if they do not recognise you as one of themselves. However, what you think of yourself is much more to the point than what others think of you. The favour of ignoble men can be won only by ignoble means.” Seneca said trying to win social approval is a bad idea because to please people we need to be like them which is also a problem in itself because we don’t know what really people really want and oftentimes they are infinitely varied. This goes back to the concept of the dichotomy of control which the Stoics taught us to focus only on things we can control. 

*****   Letters from a Stoic Key Takeaways is a collection of short key takeaways from the letters sent by Seneca to Lucilius. Read each letter’s key takeways here .

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