In this series of blog posts I attempt to translate the Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English. In letter 25 Seneca describes how role models can help you to live a virtuous life.
It’s important to have role models. Not the sort of vacuous celebrity role models who appear is trashy magazines. Or worse still, so-called reality TV stars. Rather I’m talking about real role models. The sort of people who will help you to live with virtue. You may want to have visible reminders of these people dotted around your home, or workplace. The reason being is that each time you catch sight of them you can think, what would that person do if they were next to me? Would they act or think in the same why that I am? Would you do anything differently if they were there in the room with you? Would you act more virtuously?
Now, I’m not talking about hours of contemplation on what a role model would or wouldn’t do each day. You don’t need to deliberate too long on what this role model, or that role model would do. Rather I’m suggesting internalising a more fleeting, but regular thought process. This will allow you to calibrate your judgements, beliefs and actions. This exercise will extract you from the mindless repetition of a habit or a routine. It helps you to question and then, if necessary, adjust what you are about to do (or not do).
Over time this will help you to change your character for the better. You’ll reach a point where you don’t even need to see the role model. You’ll be able to “hear” them speaking to you. Then it will be up to you to decide if this advice is good, and is worth acting upon. Or you may choose to ignore it. But at least you’ll have the option.
But beware: as you get older, it becomes more difficult to accept the advice of others. Even imaginary role models! This begs the question, is advice like this only for the young? I’d rather give and receive advice throughout my life, no matter how old I am. And like I said above, it’s then a matter of choice if you want to listen and take it on board. You can reflect on it, challenge it and if needs be adjust it.
So, in the spirit of giving advice, here are a few of points.
- One behaviour that I would encourage is modesty. This helps you to realise that you are imperfect, no matter how much you achieve, or think you already know. Modesty also allows you to reflect on the points in your character which can benefit from change. If you’re not modest then you’ll only promote your good points and let your ego run wild. Build enough time into each day to reflect on what you can do to improve by taking the suggestions of others on board. Over time these comments will build on each other and you can maximise their benefits.
- Also, don’t focus on only material goods. Rather divert your attention to what nature gives us for free. If you can think like this then you’ll never feel poor. Everybody can be rich.
- Finally, don’t believe something is true just because everybody thinks it is. You don’t have to go along with the crowd. But beware! Don’t think this means you should always hide yourself away. If you do that then you may be tempted to act less than virtuously.
I recommend you read all of the most influential Letters in this new Penguin Classic book. It is the best translation, in my opinion, because it captures Seneca’s humour and style. It is also the easiest to read. My copy is full of highlighted lines, margin notes and tabs. A treasure chest of profound, practical advice which you can apply immediately.
Warning: this is not an academic text; it describes a hands-on philosophy of life. Discover powerful, instantly helpful wisdom. The complete guide to improving your day-to-day activities, thoughts and actions.