Stoic stock phrases

7336822So the other day I was at the movie theater, and I had an unpleasant social interaction with a misguided soul who thought she was entitled to keep her phone on, receiving text messages to which the entire theater was alerted by loud sounds. I asked her to turn off the thing, and she completely ignored me. A few minutes later I tried again and she responded extremely rudely. I was, honestly, left speechless. I did, I suppose, the Stoic thing to do (see Stoic advice on anger, for instance) and walked away. But this raised in my mind the possibility of reviving an old Stoic technique: coming up with a series of stock phrases meant both to deal with likely or even unexpected social situations, and more generally to remind ourselves (or communicate to others) of basic Stoic principles.

So here are some possibilities, both from the original Stoic stock, and a new one for modern living. Suggestions for additional entries are most welcome!

* “Fate permitting.” — to remind ourselves of the fact that the course of future events is not (entirely) up to us. Any textual reference for this, by the way?

* “Some things are in our control and others not.” — Same idea, from the beginning of Epictetus’ Enchiridion, 1. (A different translation has: “We are responsible for some things, while there are others for which we cannot be held responsible.”)

* “So it seemed to him.” — When someone says or does something that is wrong because, the Stoics would say, he didn’t know better. From Enchiridion, 42. (A different translation has: “He did what he believed was right.”)

* “Passions stem from frustrated desire.” — So says Epictetus in Discourses I, 27, 10. Applicable when someone does something irrational under the control of emotions rather than reason?


Categories: Modern Stoicism

7 replies

  1. But perhaps a kind phrase – inspired by Epictetus and excuse the anachronism: “that really is a lovely phone and it has such a beautiful loud tone”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Actually, I write in “Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck” that people on their phones in movie theaters know they are rude and don’t care. They will almost never respond well to you, even if asked in the kindest way to turn off their phones. This is a job for a professional — get the usher. And in restaurants, alert the manager.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. You were right to walk away, although you could have complained to management. If I were in your shoes, I would not have confronted her, as such confrontations are rarely productive.

    I take the “Passions stem from frustrated desire” to apply to us rather than her irrational behavior (unless I misunderstood your comment). The anger felt is a passion that stems from the frustrated desire to hear what is going on in the movie.


  4. blogging,

    thanks for the feedback. Yes, the last entry is clearly an insult, but it seems in line with the sort of witty response to anger that are recounted by Seneca and others, see my previous post about this (, particularly the sarcastic responses to insults proffered by Socrates and Cato. Cheers!


  5. The “stoic way” is not “doing nothing”.

    It was not in your control to make her stop. You can just ask. She insulted you. What else ?

    Option #1: as you said the entire theater was alerted by her phone noises etc, SO ask people around politely: “is someone can also ask her to stop because it didn’t work with me, I just got insulted ? ”

    Option #2: Maybe it was in the control of somebody else ? It’s not your movie theater, right ?
    Ask the owner or the person in charge if these kind of noises are included in the price of the movie ticket ? If the person in charge do nothing: you ask a refund and say you will come back another day when there would be less noise…

    After all, it only depends on your objective: was it to see the movie that particular day and time so you have to stay there whatever can happen (noise etc…) of was it to see the movie in a quiet environnement so it’s different….

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Only a wise man – or a man trying to be wiser – have the courage to share his feelings about such a mundane situation. It is really comfortable, warming and humane. Thanks, Mr Massimo!
    P.S. What I’d have done? Exactly… like you! Perhaps, I would have tried to listen to the Stoic tip about not exceeding with rumination.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks! I’m not doubting that some Stoics might have used these, I just wonder if it’s really in keeping with Stoic philosophy to do so. It doesn’t seem virtuous at all to respond to an insult with an insult, no matter how subtle or witty. I wonder if there’s some missing context that makes these phrases consistent with Stoicism?


%d bloggers like this: