I first heard the phrase in Bridge of Spies, the 2015 historical drama directed and produced by Steven Spielberg. In the movie, Colonel Abel used it to describe the quality he observed in his lawyer James Donovan. He said the words after watching how resilient Donovan was in defending him. Stoikiy Muzhik, or standing man, the man who keeps standing back up even though everyone tries to put him down, made an impression on me. What can be more impressive than the thought of a man who just won’t back down? According to Colonel Abel, “Every time they hit him, he stood back up again. Soldier hit him harder, still he got back up to his feet. I think because of this they stopped the beating and let him live.” I think what made such an impression on me wasn’t his resoluteness. It wasn’t the strength, nor the conviction. What made the man and the phrase stick the most is the reason. The why. Why does he keep standing? What enabled him go beyond the fear of the soldiers and pain from being hit? It reminded me of the word stoic from stoicism.
Oxford dictionary defines Stoic as a person who is able to suffer pain or trouble without complaining or showing what they are feeling.
However, this definition does not truly portray what stoicism means, because it makes the word out to be more about resignation, a kind of unemotional endurance in the face of pain or trouble. I first came across the word when I saw it on a t-shirt, it caught my attention because it has a strong pronunciation and it seemed like it connotes strength. In trying to find out what the word meant, I learned that at its heart is the idea that the four leading virtues of courage, justice, wisdom, and self-control are the birthplace of human flourishing, and that all suffering comes from our perception and interpretation of events, rather than the events themselves. Just like in The Matrix Revolutions when Neo was constantly getting back up. Agent Smith asked him why he keeps standing. Is it freedom, truth, peace, love? Neo finally replied because he chooses to. It is an extraordinary, yet simple answer. It is an answer that emphasizes what makes humans so unique, the ability to choose.
But how do we thrive, find true happiness, and flourish in the midst of the troubles and issues we encounter daily? I read something on Brainpickings that I would like to share: True happiness is a verb. It’s the ongoing dynamic performance of worthy deeds. The flourishing life, whose foundation is virtuous intention, is something we continually improvise, and in doing so our souls mature. Our life has usefulness to ourselves and to the people we touch. Goodness isn’t ostentatious piety or showy good manners. It’s a lifelong series of subtle readjustments of our character. We fine-tune our thoughts, words, and deeds in a progressively wholesome direction. The virtue resides in our intentions and our deeds, not in the results. In addition to that:
BE SUSPICIOUS OF CONVENTION: Popular perceptions, values, and ways of doing things are rarely the wisest. Conventional thinking — its means and ends — is essentially uncreative and uninteresting. Its job is to preserve the status quo for overly self-defended individuals and institutions. On the other hand, there is no inherent virtue in new ideas. Judge ideas and opportunities on the basis of whether they are life-giving. Give your assent to that which promotes humaneness, justice, beneficial growth, kindness, possibility, and benefit to the human community.
BE A CITIZEN OF THE WORLD: One cannot pursue one’s own highest good without at the same time necessarily promoting the good of others. A life based on narrow self-interest cannot be esteemed by any honorable measurement. Seeking the very best in ourselves means actively caring for the welfare of other human beings.
FORGIVE OVER AND OVER AND OVER: Generally, we’re all doing the best we can. We are not privy to the stories behind people’s actions, so we should be patient with others and suspend our judgment of them, recognizing the limits of our understanding. This does not mean we condone evil deeds or endorse the idea that different actions carry the same moral weight. Human betterment is a gradual, two-steps-forward, one-step-back effort. Forgive others for their misdeeds over and over again – this gesture fosters inner ease. Forgive yourself over and over and over again – then try to do better next time.
This is our predicament: Over and over again, we lose sight of what is important and what isn’t. We crave things over which we have no control, and are not satisfied by the things within our control. We need to regularly stop and take stock; to sit down and determine within ourselves which things are worth valuing and which things are not; which risks are worth the cost and which are not. Even the most confusing or hurtful aspects of life can be made more tolerable by clear seeing and by choice. – Sharon Lebell