And finally, the only benefit that solitude confers, – the habit of trusting no man, and of fearing no witnesses, – is lost to the fool; for he betrays himself. – Seneca
This is an interesting letter because it’s very hard to make sense of the point. It’s hard to make sense of what living to oneself means. Let’s be honest, most of the writings from 2300 years ago are hard to understand because of the language used. This type of language is most likely foreign to you and me. That’s actually the intrigue to reading these letters, decoding them and then trying to apply to modern day life. The more and more I read these quotes the more it made sense to me on what Seneca was writing about. What kept popping up in my mind was my tattoo on my right forearm. For those of you who do not know me, it’s two Japanese kanji’s that mean trust and oneself.
I got it when I was eighteen and it’s a reminder to myself that no matter what happens, always trust my gut, trust my first instincts, trust oneself. It’s how I’ve lived my life and it’s never let me down. At first, after reading this letter I thought the tattoo fit perfectly with what Seneca was professing. Then when I tried to make sense of the letter and what the tattoo meant the more lost I became. The internal conflict that I was having was how could this thing that I’ve trusted for so long possibly be incorrect? Then it hit me. These two things can be mutually exclusive. Like most things in life, there is no black and white. Most things in life fall in the gray space between black and white. Going back to the quote and rereading it, I now interpret it differently. If I only trusted myself then it would eventually be a fool’s errand. If I only trusted myself then where would that have gotten me?
At some point in life, we have to not only trust ourselves but we need to trust those around us. I’ve been very fortunate to have many people in my life who have never lead me astray. With that kind of trust in my life, you can understand the point that part of letter #10 and what Seneca is talking about. You have to both trust yourself and trust those you choose to be around you. At some point, you will need that trust in others to help you make the right decision. At the same time, you need your own self-trust to know that’s the right decision. Have you had moments like this in your life? Where you trust your intuition? Where your intuition tells you to trust those closest to you? That’s what he’s getting at. I’m sure there are many moments like this in your life. Then the letter takes a different tone and goes somewhat in a new direction.
They whisper the basest of prayers to heaven; but if anyone listens, they are silent at once. That which they are unwilling for men to know, they communicate to God. Do you not think, then, that some such wholesome advice as this could be given you: “Live among men as if God beheld you; speak with God as if men were listening”? – Seneca
This part I’ve read and reread on what to make of it. What was the point? Then it came to me. The point is shouldn’t we trust those around us like we trust god or whomever you pray too. Think about it. We should trust those around us with our deepest thoughts just like we would trust our prayers. Essentially Seneca is telling us we should act like our purest thoughts. Our actions should match our talk. We’ve discussed that before. Going back to those who we choose to surround ourselves. Those that we trust the most should also agree that our actions follow our thoughts and prayers. This is where the two line up again. Those two things we have to trust to enjoy life to the fullest. We need to trust our own intuition and allow that intuition to lead our actions. Ok great, that’s all well and good. You want to know the fun part? No one will really know if your actions are following your words. Well unless you’ve shared those thoughts with those closest to you. Which you should but that’s not for me or anyone else that for that matter to tell you what to do. Isn’t that the point of philosophy? To show us how we should to act when no one is watching. Do you roll through a stop sign at midnight when no one is around or do you come to a complete stop?
Speak, and live, in this way; see to it that nothing keeps you down. – Seneca
We’ll end with this simple but profound quote. Trust your intuition but not so much that you don’t trust others. Trust those closest to you as long as your intuition agrees. Come to a complete stop when no one is watching. We’re well on our way to being the best us.
Other thought-provoking quotes from letter #10:
No thoughtless person ought to be left alone; in such cases he only plans folly, and heaps up future dangers for himself or for others; he brings into play his base desires; the mind displays what fear or shame used to repress; it whets his boldness, stirs his passions, and goads his anger.
When persons are in mourning, or fearful about something, we are accustomed to watching them that we may prevent them from making a wrong use of their loneliness.
As for your former prayers, you may dispense the gods from answering them; offer new prayers; pray for a sound mind and for good health, first of soul and then of body.