Every day a little better

The knock against Seneca, even in his own time, was that he was a hypocrite. For a Stoic, he was obscenely rich. For a philosopher, he was uncomfortably close to the center of power and guilty of all the compromises such a position entails.

Seneca was aware of this contradiction too. He even wrote about it. “Why do you till broader acres than your natural need requires?” he asks himself, “Why do your dinners not conform to your own teaching? Why do you have such elegant furniture? Why is the wine drunk at your table older than you are yourself? Why does your wife wear in her ears the revenue of a rich house?”

These are serious charges—and he levels them at himself. His life and his teachings were by no means perfectly aligned. So what was his explanation? It was a simple one. One that we ought to take note of and solace in ourselves. “I am not a ‘wise man’ nor shall I ever be,” he responded. “It is enough for me if every day I reduce the number of my vices….I have not attained to perfect health, nor indeed shall I attain it; my gout I contrive to alleviate rather than to cure.”

In other words: You don’t need to be perfect. You just need to be getting better. Don’t despair at your contradictions. Don’t let yourself give up just because you’re far from the ideal—or because your critics have a point. That’s not what philosophy is about.

It’s just about getting a little bit better. Every day. For as long as you live.

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