LAJ ARTICLES

Wisdom from Seneca. Friendship, Time and Trust

Wisdom from Seneca. Friendship Time and Trust 1 74

About 15 years ago I discovered Stoic philosophy. It’s much easier to find and hold new things when it’s in hand and I spent that day in Barnes and Nobles on 66th street and Broadway, it is closed now.
The Roman philosopher Seneca was a Stoic. Much of life is considered in a series of correspondence with his friend Lucilius, later published as Letters from a Stoic
His first of 124 letters begins with a plea to Lucilius to use his time wisely, because most men just don’t understand that we “die daily”:
Furthermore, if you will pay close heed to the problem, you will find that the largest portion of our life passes while we are doing ill, a goodly share while we are doing nothing, and the whole while we are doing that which is not to the purpose
And later in that same letter:
Hold every hour in your grasp. Lay hold of to-day’s task, and you will not need to depend so much upon to-morrow’s. While we are postponing, life speeds by
This setting of priorities, of course, becomes even more important as one nears the end, the letter closes with a metaphor that draws a parallel between life and a cask of wine:
For, as our ancestors believed, it is too late to spare when you reach the dregs of the cask. Of that which remains at the bottom, the amount is slight, and the quality is vile
Letter 3 counsels that one cannot decouple friendship from trust: if one doesn’t trust the other, then one cannot reasonably say that person is a friend:
When friendship is settled, you must trust; before friendship is formed, you must pass judgment
How do we know whether we can trust someone enough to consider them a friend? We must first get to know them enough to be able to make a judgment about their character. Only if we can arrive at a positive conclusion in that respect we can think of them as a friend. But once this is done, trust becomes implicit, and is not to be revoked on penalty of effectively ending the friendship
Ponder for a long time whether you shall admit a given person to your friendship; but when you have decided to admit him, welcome him with all your heart and soul. Speak as boldly with him as with yourself
Letter 3: On True and False Friendship
By Lucius Annaeus Seneca

You have sent a letter to me through the hand of a “friend” of yours, as you call him.
And in your very next sentence you warn me not to discuss with him all the matters that concern you, saying that even you yourself are not accustomed to do this; in other words, you have in the same letter affirmed and denied that he is your friend.
Now if you used this word of ours in the popular sense, and called him “friend” in the same way in which we speak of all candidates for election as “honourable gentlemen,” and as we greet all men whom we meet casually, if their names slip us for the moment, with the salutation “my dear sir,” – so be it.
But if you consider any man a friend whom you do not trust as you trust yourself, you are mightily mistaken and you do not sufficiently understand what true friendship means.
Indeed, I would have you discuss everything with a friend; but first of all discuss the man himself. When friendship is settled, you must trust; before friendship is formed, you must pass judgment.
Those persons indeed put last first and confound their duties, who, violating the rules of Theophrastus,  judge a man after they have made him their friend, instead of making him their friend after they have judged him.
Ponder for a long time whether you shall admit a given person to your friendship; but when you have decided to admit him, welcome him with all your heart and soul.
Speak as boldly with him as with yourself.
As to yourself, although you should live in such a way that you trust your own self with nothing which you could not entrust even to your enemy, yet, since certain matters occur which convention keeps secret, you should share with a friend at least all your worries and reflections.
Regard him as loyal, and you will make him loyal.
Some, for example, fearing to be deceived, have taught men to deceive; by their suspicions they have given their friend the right to do wrong.
Why need I keep back any words in the presence of my friend? Why should I not regard myself as alone when in his company?
There is a class of men who communicate, to anyone whom they meet, matters which should be revealed to friends alone, and unload upon the chance listener whatever irks them.
Others, again, fear to confide in their closest intimates; and if it were possible, they would not trust even themselves, burying their secrets deep in their hearts.
But we should do neither.
It is equally faulty to trust everyone and to trust no one.
Yet the former fault is, I should say, the more ingenuous, the latter the more safe.
In like manner you should rebuke these two kinds of men, – both those who always lack repose, and those who are always in repose.
For love of bustle is not industry, – it is only the restlessness of a hunted mind.
And true repose does not consist in condemning all motion as merely vexation; that kind of repose is slackness and inertia.
Therefore, you should note the following saying, taken from my reading in Pomponius: “Some men shrink into dark corners, to such a degree that they see darkly by day.”
No, men should combine these tendencies, and he who reposes should act and he who acts should take repose.
Discuss the problem with Nature; she will tell you that she has created both day and night.
Farewell.

You have sent a letter to me through the hand of a “friend” of yours, as you call him.
And in your very next sentence you warn me not to discuss with him all the matters that concern you, saying that even you yourself are not accustomed to do this; in other words, you have in the same letter affirmed and denied that he is your friend.
Now if you used this word of ours in the popular sense, and called him “friend” in the same way in which we speak of all candidates for election as “honourable gentlemen,” and as we greet all men whom we meet casually, if their names slip us for the moment, with the salutation “my dear sir,” – so be it.
But if you consider any man a friend whom you do not trust as you trust yourself, you are mightily mistaken and you do not sufficiently understand what true friendship means.
Indeed, I would have you discuss everything with a friend; but first of all discuss the man himself. When friendship is settled, you must trust; before friendship is formed, you must pass judgment.
Those persons indeed put last first and confound their duties, who, violating the rules of Theophrastus,  judge a man after they have made him their friend, instead of making him their friend after they have judged him.
Ponder for a long time whether you shall admit a given person to your friendship; but when you have decided to admit him, welcome him with all your heart and soul.
Speak as boldly with him as with yourself.
As to yourself, although you should live in such a way that you trust your own self with nothing which you could not entrust even to your enemy, yet, since certain matters occur which convention keeps secret, you should share with a friend at least all your worries and reflections.
Regard him as loyal, and you will make him loyal.
Some, for example, fearing to be deceived, have taught men to deceive; by their suspicions they have given their friend the right to do wrong.
Why need I keep back any words in the presence of my friend? Why should I not regard myself as alone when in his company?
There is a class of men who communicate, to anyone whom they meet, matters which should be revealed to friends alone, and unload upon the chance listener whatever irks them.
Others, again, fear to confide in their closest intimates; and if it were possible, they would not trust even themselves, burying their secrets deep in their hearts.
But we should do neither.
It is equally faulty to trust everyone and to trust no one.
Yet the former fault is, I should say, the more ingenuous, the latter the more safe.
In like manner you should rebuke these two kinds of men, – both those who always lack repose, and those who are always in repose.
For love of bustle is not industry, – it is only the restlessness of a hunted mind.
And true repose does not consist in condemning all motion as merely vexation; that kind of repose is slackness and inertia.
Therefore, you should note the following saying, taken from my reading in Pomponius: “Some men shrink into dark corners, to such a degree that they see darkly by day.”
No, men should combine these tendencies, and he who reposes should act and he who acts should take repose.
Discuss the problem with Nature; she will tell you that she has created both day and night.
Farewell.

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