The Daily Stoic for June 12th. “A Trained Mind Is Better Than Any Script”
“In this way you must understand how laughable it is to say, ‘Tell me what to do!’ What advice could I possibly give? No, a far better request is, ‘Train my mind to adapt to any circumstance.’ . . . In this way, if circumstances take you off script . . . you won’t be desperate for a new prompting.”
—EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, 2.2.20b–1; 24b–25a
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” goes the saying. However, we all want the fish, and only a few people want to bother fishing.
Is that something inherently human? Today’s stoic opens with the sentence: “It would be nice if someone could show us exactly what to do in every situation”. As I consider myself an independent person, I tend to disagree with it. But I can’t help but wonder if it’s true.
Due to my developer background, a quick example comes to mind: The proliferation of frameworks that help programmers quickly put together an application. Potentially, without a lot of programming knowledge, anyone could put together a simple app today, by just installing some frameworks.
While there’s nothing wrong with that, the fact is that this tendency affects how developers face challenges and problems. Back when I left college, we didn’t have half the amount of resources available to developers today. That had its cons, obviously, but also its pros. Namely: if you needed to do something, you had to learn how to do it yourself. Not just plug in the first plugin or library you find after a quick Google search.
A Trained Mind Is Better Than Any Script
By learning to solve the problem yourself, you actually learned something new. Yes, probably your solution was not as optimal, fast, scalable or maintainable as a well-maintained framework. However, the importance of that one-off program in your life is relatively small when compared to the benefit of what you learn by doing things yourself.
This applies also to our lives. We like others to give us quick answers to our problems, instead of trying to solve them ourselves. That’s the equivalent, going back to the fish metaphor, of asking others to feed us every day.
It’s, of course, easier than learning to fish. But learning to fish has actually two big advantages:
First, we don’t need to rely on someone to survive. If the person feeding us every day suddenly disappears, we will be able to survive, because we know how to get those fish ourselves.
Secondly, our knowledge of fishing will not only help us grow as individuals, it will also allow us to make a living out of selling fish to other lazy people that don’t want to bother fishing their food themselves.
Today’s Daily Stoic, “A Trained Mind Is Better Than Any Script”, discusses how, instead of looking for an easy answer, or someone to tell us what to do on every situation, we need to learn to do things by ourselves. As today’s stoic fragment explains, that involves developing our creativity, independence, self-confidence, ingenuity, and the ability to problem solve.