In the same way as the fourth letter, Seneca begins by praising Lucilius’ effort in improving himself. He added this time that all his endeavors to be a better man should not be to seek social approval. Seneca reminds us to live a higher standard than most people and continue to realize our potentials to the fullest but not to the point of being out of sync with the norms of the population. As Seneca puts it, “our life should observe a happy medium between the ways of a sage and the ways of the world at large”. There is a lot of wisdom in this line of the letter. How many times do we see people reach the top of the world then become upset with people who they deem to be inferior to them? Have you met people who become highly intellectual but then their ways of life have become so detached to the norm of the people? Seneca wants us to continually improve our lives, to seek wisdom, and then when we finally get there remind ourselves to be humble and be empathetic with those people who were left behind.
In the later part of the letter, Seneca reminds Lucilius of the pointlessness of hope. If you have prior knowledge about stoicism, you probably have known that the stoics are not a fan of hope. For the Stoics, hope is the opium of fear. A lot of our disappointment stems from hoping so much in the future and then we start to feel that things will not go in our way we start to panic and fear starts to engulf us that gets worse with time. The Stoics believe that our fate has been pre-determined and so what’s the sense of clouding our thoughts about what the future holds for us. As Seneca beautifully puts it in his letter, “Cease to hope and you will cease to fear.” To make a point further he then writes a metaphor. “Though they do seem at variance, yet they are really united. Just as the same chain fastens the prisoner and the soldier who guards him, so hope and fear, dissimilar as they are, keep step together; fear follows hope.”
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
FREE weekly practical tips, reflections and key takeaways from the works of the stoics