Stoicism and me

Steven Barnes
3 min readJan 14, 2024

To help me communicate with Jason, I”ve been studying a bit of stoicism. Good stuff. One thing I realized pretty quickly why so many people think this is my path. Apparently, I had a natural inclination toward some of its positions from childhood. (Buddhism fits me more closely, but I’m actually a hybrid of African, Asian, and European approaches to the subject, leavened with stone-aged hunter-gatherer wisdom as anthropologists have been able to extract it worldwide).

I was watching a video on Stoicism discussing how you get to determine the meaning of external events. And remembered when 20th Century Fox stole one of my ideas. It was when “Room 222” was being filmed at my high school. The deal was that Fox had to give screen tests and interviews to members of the drama club/class. So to Fox I went, was interviewed, and while talking with the executives pitched an idea about a kid who is being bullied, studies karate, and becomes a bully himself. We had a great conversation about it, and of course this was an excerpt of my own internal dialogue about life.

And…a couple of months later that episode was broadcast. One of Chuck Norris’ first acting roles. And the kid who played “me” (Eric Laneuville) went on to a successful acting and directing career.

I remember sitting and watching my dream going down the toilet…and realized I had a number of ways to respond.

  1. I could have railed against “Hollywood” as villains and thieves.
  2. I could have railed specifically against “white people” as villains and thieves. Trust me, I was the only color in that room.
  3. I could have simply thought that the “system” or “the world” was against me, and give up, or be consumed and destroyed by anger.

Or…I could think what I actually thought, and that was:

“Hmmm. I have ideas worth stealing.”

THAT seemed the healthiest, best, most productive approach. It suggested a path to my goal: Learn the system enough to know where the land mines are. Develop better navigation skills, and allies who have the skills I lack. To do that, I had to find a way to attract and bond people more knowledgeable and successful than myself. And yep, they were probably going to be white people. That meant I had to find a way to deal with my anger, and not secretly look down on them, as I don’t believe you can sustain a lie indefinitely.

Who did I have to be to “win” given the information I had just learned. The answer is pretty much the person I am today. Anger and fear would not have helped me. Neither would wearing a “mask” as every erg of energy you use to sustain a “mask” is subtracted from the energy you have to move forward and really walk your path: you are constantly watching people to see how they are reacting, and then making adjustments.

Success in the arts (and it was the martial arts and attendant disciplines that suggested this) comes from being YOUR MOST AUTHENTIC SELF. That’s all you have to offer the world. From this perspective, the smart-alecks who answer “what if your true self is an asshole” are simply confusing their egos and their deep self.

Anyway, that solution had nothing to do with a specific school of philosophy, except for the applied success philosophy that my mother innoculated me with with endless LPs of various positive thinkers, and the comparative religious tomes on our shelf. I devoured that stuff, saw what seemed incomplete approaches with all of them (finding one that was specific to body, mind and spirit was difficult. Yoga was my doorway in, and Harley Reagan’s Sweet Medicine teachings finally gave me the vocabulary to describe my internal experience) and, started putting pieces together until I began to see hidden depths in ALL the teachings, and felt like I’d completed a circle and was ready for the next level.

Fascinating. Anyway, respect to Stoicism. Good stuff!

Steve

(Writers: come to our next LIVE screenwriting workshop, on February 17th! www.screenwritingwebinar.com)

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Steven Barnes

Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author, ecstatic husband and father, and holder of black belts in three martial arts. www.lifewritingpodcast.com.