In these times of caged life, “thanks” to the coronavirus, some good reading is appropriate. For example, Seneca is full of interesting suggestions.
Having lived in a turbulent age, experiencing the enticements of success and the threats of power, the philosopher has most intensely tried to live in search of consciousness, of that inner voice that is “we”, of a true existence.
It is not easy, because the temptation to give in to conformism becomes stronger when social pressure increases. Between oscillations and uncertainties, Seneca, however, tried: she is not an infallible and perfect guide, the therapist who indicates the way without hesitation, but a dissatisfied patient, looking first of all for himself.
Building a happy, genuine life where one can finally be oneself is possible but not easy. It is easier to let oneself live, following the reassuring flow of prejudices and habits, then blaming fate or others for their failures.
But the problem, Seneca knows and also we know it, is that it doesn’t work. Those responsible for our lives are ourselves, and no one else, it is useless to hide it. And therefore, all that remains is to analyse the problems and face them.
We always complain about the time that runs away, about occupations that divert attention from important things. But what are the important things?
The daily behavior of people suggests that they are success, wealth or power: it is always behind these idols that everyone runs. And whose fault is it then when the risk of having wasted one’s life in vain activities becomes tangible? Really if we could have enjoyed a little more time everything could have been settled? Seneca says: it is not true that we have little time, but we waste a lot of it! He overturns stereotypical common places, putting us in front of reality and ourselves.
Closed in our small worlds, attached to our things, we do not realize this bigger and more beautiful reality, which alone can give meaning to our existence.
The risk of failure, of course, is always present. But could it be otherwise? “There is not, it seems to me, one individual more unfortunate than who has never had any adversity,” says Seneca. It is an almost paradoxical statement, which, however, perhaps contains a grain of truth. Because in the end, it is like this: “in the great theater of life the show is all the more appreciated the nobler is who gives it”. Once again everything falls on us. We have to choose which side to be on; in short, what to do with our lives, whether to complain or fight.
Let’s take back what we are: it is not easy to remain ourselves when everything around us changes dramatically, eliminating reference points or handhold. One almost thinks that something authentically ours does not exist, that we can legitimately call “I” because we are the product of social interactions, the result of the random combination of fortuitous events that happen to us. Yet, we may not listen to it, but within each of us there is a consciousness: it is us.
Reading it well, Seneca is more coherent than it seems.