Seneca: On Choosing Our Teachers, Letter 52

Seneca The Younger, or more popularly knows as Seneca was one of the most prolific stoic philosophers this world has every seen. He was also an advisor to King Nero.

He wasn’t just another academician from 50 AD who used to teach people about philosophy. No. He lived his teachings. He was a famous playwright and a writer.

One of the richest men in Rome, and of course an advisor to the king.

He had seen his fair share of hardships in life to the tune of being exiled to Corsica for 7 years. His life ended with a stoic suicide that was ordered by none other than King Nero himself.

He wrote mostly about tragedy and is most popularly known for a compilation of his letters which mention Lucillus quite a few times who was the governor of Sicily in around 65 AD.

Letter 58, By Seneca The Younger

His letters are an amazing resource for someone living in the 21st century.

Surprised?

I was too.

The letters have a very high applicability in our times as well. This is because he talks about loss of a friend, of a loved one, being rich and being poor, on contemplating our mortality and more real life day to day problems.

His philosophy, Stoicism in general is not an esoteric philosophy. It is very well connected to our daily lives.

In a letter on choosing your teachers he talks about quite a few prominent ideas that I thought of sharing with you guys.

How mad is he who leaves the lecture-room in a happy frame of mind simply because of applause from the ignorant! Why do you take pleasure in being praised by men whom you yourself cannot praise?     Pythagoras made his pupils keep silence for five years; do you think that they had the right on that account to break out immediately into applause? 

Seneca, Letter 52: On Choosing Our Teachers

              
The applicability of the above line in 2020 from the letter comes as no surprise to me.

In this day and age of online course creators, and people who make videos and write articles teaching other people for social media followers and views, bangs right on.

It makes me wonder how the 1st Century Rome was. We might think that the world has changed drastically, but by this sentence alone, I know there were teachers preaching only for the claps and applause.

Teachers must lead by example and not just by word. That does not mean you cannot share what you are learning while you’re learning something but it is always better to apply before you teach.

Those are the types of teachers we should seek. A real teacher does not live for the applause but for the transfer of the knowledge itself so that when he dies, his knowledge is passed on.

These outcries should be left for the arts which aim to please the crowd; let philosophy be worshiped in silence. Young men, indeed, must sometimes have free play to follow their impulses, but it should only be at times when they act from impulse, and when they cannot force themselves to be silent. Such praise as that gives a certain kind of encouragement to the hearers themselves, and acts as a spur to the youthful mind. But let them be roused to the matter, and not to the style; otherwise, eloquence does them harm, making them enamored of itself, and not of the subject.

Seneca, Letter 52: On Choosing Our Teachers

I love that he says philosophy is worshiped in silence. I believe that real work in life gets done when nobody is watching.

We all put a mask on when people are watching us. Stoic philosophy is not a mask we can wear that easily.

Principles and teachings of Stoicism need to be contemplated upon, studied and applied to the situations in life.

If we start getting aroused by the way a teacher teaches, by how that person dresses and portrays himself, we are on the wrong path.

As a student we must get charmed by the subject matter and it’s application rather than just the style of the person teaching the subject. especially when it comes to practical philosophy of living life.

Upper Cover Of The Published Letters by Seneca

I should accordingly deem more fortunate the man who has never had any trouble with himself; but the other, I feel, has deserved better of himself, who has won a victory over the meanness of his own nature, and has not gently led himself, but has wrestled his way, to wisdom.

Seneca, Letter 52: On Choosing Our Teachers


This is classic Seneca. Tragedy teaches us more than the good times.


It is fine to choose to follow people who never had a conflicting opinion with themselves.


Maybe they have never wanted to do too many things or loved many things and had to choose only one or two of them.


The experience of letting go of something that you love, the experience of fighting with your own self, makes you a better teacher and a better student.

There are obstacles in our path; so let us fight, and call to our assistance some helpers. “Whom,” you say, “shall I call upon? Shall it be this man or that?” There is another choice also open to you; you may go to the ancients; for they have the time to help you. We can get assistance not only from the living, but from those of the past. 

Seneca, Letter 52: On Choosing Our Teachers

              
When looking for teachers, let’s look at the people who have lived in the past and have passed on their teachings, their philosophies on life and their experiences are going to be the first ones to choose.

Those guys have nowhere to go, so you practically have an unlimited amount of time with those people and their teachings.

I get a lot of people who ask me about finding a mentor.

Lo and behold, I give you unlimited resources at your disposal.

Let the Marcus Aurelius teach you leadership, let the President Lyndon Johnson teach you politics, let John Bogle teach you investing, let Charles Darwin teach you evolution and let Da Vinci teach you how to watch closely and think.

Choose as a guide one whom you will admire more when you see him act than when you hear him speak. 

Seneca, Letter 52: On Choosing Our Teachers

              
And when you have chose from the dead, choose a teacher from the living.


But don’t choose too many teachers at once. Look for one or two sources and then dive deep into those sources, building upon what you learn from them.


The real teaching does not happen while listening to the teacher. It happens when you think about what the teacher taught.


The best way to find a great teacher is by observing at what they do and not what they say.


Follow people who were in a similar situation as you in their lives and progressed from there.


Look at what they did to come out victorious on the other end.

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