11 Aug Am I free from bonds now? (ALAIN DE BOTTON)
In February 63, Seneca’s friend Lucilius, a civil servant working in Sicily, learned of a lawsuit against him which threatened to end his career and disgrace his name for ever. He wrote to Seneca.
“You may expect that I will advise you to picture a happy outcome, and to rest in the allurements of hope,’ replied the philosopher, but “I am going to conduct you to peace of mind through another route’ – which culminated in the advice:
If you wish to put off all worry, assume that what you fear may happen is certainly going to happen.
Seneca wagered that once we look rationally at what will occur if our desires are not fulfilled, we will almost certainly find that the underlying problems are more modest than the anxieties they have bred. Lucilius had grounds for sadness but not hysteria:
If you lose this case, can anything more severe happen to you than being sent into exile or led to prison? … “I may become a poor man’; I shall then be one among many. “I may be exiled’; I shall then regard myself as though I had been born in the place to which I’ll be sent. “They may put me in chains.’ What then? Am I free from bonds now? Prison and exile were bad, but – the linchpin of the argument – not as bad as the desperate Lucilius might have feared before scrutinizing the anxiety.
The Consolations of Philosophy
Alain de Botton