I have recently been reflecting on my year of Stoic practice, and a question I thought that I had put to bed has been popping up more and more in my head. That question being, "Am I a Stoic?". I touched on the topic in one of my previous posts where I mentioned that being simply eclectic with your views is often problematic, while committing yourself to a philosophy or a way of life like Stoicism potentially gives you more grounding in your principles and day to day practice.
A separate problem though appears to come up when you committing yourself in that way, where you can become overly attached to the ideas or views as a part of your identity. There is an interesting essay on this topic by Paul Graham called Keep Your Identity Small which brings up a similar issue, and I recommend taking a few minutes to read it.
As someone who works as a Software Engineer and does a lot of work in object oriented programming languages, these issues with identity brought to mind a very similar issue that I have to deal with occasionally while writing code. In object oriented programming there is this idea of inheritance versus composition, or put more simply, this idea of "is a" versus "has a". I won't get into the details of what that means or what potential problems come out it, but I will say that generally speaking in software engineering, as a rule of thumb, composition is favored over inheritance. It is generally seen as more flexible for you to create a "has a" relationship than an "is a" relationship.
The problem with the "is a" relationship I think, is that it fetters you too much a specific idea or view. If we take the idea that Bob is a Stoic, and Bob agrees with this statement, that would mean Bob is committed to a Stoic view point, which is helpful in a number of ways, but also unhelpful in the sense that if some of the Stoic views that Bob identifies with Stoicism turn out to be incorrect, it is now more difficult for Bob to change his views because of the fact that he considers himself to be a Stoic.
A much more beneficial way for Bob to think about this is that Bob "has a" Stoic practice, not that he "is a" Stoic. This, in my mind, leaves much more room for adjusting ones views, while still leaving in enough commitment as to avoid the problem that eclecticism often runs into. We can certainly start splitting hairs on this idea though, is there really a difference here? If I frequently ride a skateboard around the neighborhood, I am in a categorical sense, a skateboarder. It also seems not to make much sense if I say that I "practice Christianity" but I am not "a Christian". That is basically how we precisely identify a Christian, or anyone who practices a religion, by them having specific practices or behaviors that they engage in.
Much of this thought though, is due to the fact that humans love to make sense of the world by categorizing things. Often this can be helpful, but in the ways I have just described it also seems to be very unhelpful, especially when we start including categorizations onto ourselves for philosophies, religions, politics, etc...
Upon reflection the only categorization, label, or "is a" that I am willing to give myself, even though it sounds somewhat bombastic, is "truth seeker" or "philosopher" (in the sense that I am someone who loves wisdom). All of these other labels that we may give ourselves, again, seem to fetter us down to a particular view too strongly.
So if I were to answer the question, "Am I a Stoic?", right now I would respond with "No...", but I would also continue by saying "but I have a Stoic practice", and I think for now, that is the best place to be.
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