Be a Philosopher and Live Like a King
For I believe a good king is from the outset and by necessity a philosopher, and the philosopher is from the outset a kingly person.
Musonius Rufus, Lectures 8.33.32-34
There is so much to be said about people who learn and practice, with purpose, their ability to think well. The first part of the above quote by Musonius Rufus seems obvious in that a man who carries the burden and responsibility of reigning over a kingdom must be a seeker of knowledge and wisdom if he intends to be a good ruler. It just makes sense – a wise king wants to know things and he wants to be a good thinker so he rules well. A good king also wants to learn to strengthen his cognitive abilities to reason.
The other half of Musonius’s quote is not as obvious as the first half. Pay attention to what he is saying here, “…the philosopher is from the outset a kingly person.” As philosophers, we don’t merely seek information, we seek understanding and from that wisdom. Furthermore, we don’t seek wisdom for the sake of being wise only but we seek wisdom to inform our decisions in a way that adds value to who we are and the kind of life we live. In short, we want to be empowered by knowledge and have total ownership of our decisions in life.
Wisdom will strengthen your self-ownership of your life. Although many philosophers have been poets, some philosophers’ whose writings have withstood the test of time have been seekers of truth more so than poetic thinkers. To really be able to take ownership of our lives, it's important that we anchor our feet as deeply to the bedrock of truth as we can. Many philosophers such as Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and others, have done this throughout millennia, and have left ideas and writings that have helped guide some of the best men and women the world has ever known. Seeking wisdom helps us to adjust our way of living and live better lives. A true philosopher is always improving his mind and therefore always improving his life. He seeks to master himself by presiding with purpose, as a king, over his behavior, emotions and energy. Understanding this helps Musonius’s words make sense that the philosopher is from the outset a kingly person.
It is important to commit yourself to the discipline of improving your thinking. Take your life seriously - own it. Study to gain knowledge and seek wisdom so you can learn to think better and make thoughtful and informed decisions. When you improve your quality of thinking, you’ll begin to place a different value on how you spend your time, what kind of friends you have and you might even see meaningful changes in how your life priorities are rearranged. You’ll begin to live a deeper more satisfying life because you’ve invested the strength of your mind into your decisions and you’ll be able to see how your life will leave lasting impressions on others.
Improving your way of thinking will help you to develop vision. Vision is one of the many characteristics that sets human beings apart from the animals living in the wilderness. Where a deer might see a forest as a place of immediate shelter and refuge, a human can see the same forest and envision tall ships sailing across the ocean to explore new worlds. A human has a vision for that forest and subsequently, he begins to have vision for his life’s work and even a vision for how he would like to impact the world and leave a legacy that lasts long after he is gone. Obviously, not all people have that kind of vision and unfortunately, there are many people who don’t have any vision at all. They make decisions for themselves because, like the deer, they are concerned about their present situation and they fail to consider how their present decisions could make a difference on their own future. This is one reason why there are so many Americans who live in poverty all across America while there are charitable and government programs available to help people improve their circumstances. If they would make up their minds to learn to think better, some of them would quickly find that they have more control over their destiny than they ever imagined. Isn’t this how we all are though? To some extent don’t we all know, deep down inside, that we could be better thinkers? Don’t we all believe that with a little more effort, we could take a little more control over our lives and improve upon our own situation?
Thinking better leads to living better lives. It really is that simple. Like Musonius said, a philosopher, someone who seeks knowledge and wisdom, is at the outset a kingly person. But don’t just take it from Musonius, take it from the Bible also. In Proverbs chapter 4 verses 1-9, Solomon, the wisest man that ever lived, admonishes his children to be wise and to seek after understanding. Hundreds of years before the time of Musonius, King Solomon equates the product of wisdom and understanding to an ornament of grace and a crown of glory.
1Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding.
2 For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law.
3 For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother.
4 He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live.
5 Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth.
6 Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee.
7 Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.
8 Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her.
9 She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee.
It might sound cliche but knowledge really is power; the more you know and the more you understand, the more empowered you will be.
Learn to think well.
Learn to love the truth and commit yourself to being for the truth even if it disrupts what you've always believed before.
Work on your vision - what do you see yourself doing this time next year? In five years? Ten years? What do you need to do to get there?
Suggestions for improvement.
Read books. Learn from people who have learned a lot already. Keep notes in the margins and work what you've read into conversations so you can apply what you've read to what your thinking.
Learn to think critically. This doesn't mean be critical. It means try to punch holes in the logic thats being presented and consider why an idea works or why it falls apart. Scrutinize and see whether the idea has withstood the test of scrutiny. Learn to think critically of yourself and make adjustments. This should be an ongoing exercise.
Don't let the critisism of others get you down. Discern which criticism is constructive and which is meant to pull you down. Learn from the former and dismiss the latter. You only have so much energy and emotion to use while you are on this earth, use it make yourself better, DO NOT use it to pity yourself because someone doesn't like you. No amount of emotion or energy is worth spending on someone who is trying to pull you down.
Talk with people who are interested in haveing thought provoking discussions. Find people who you can have an open and honest conversation with free from each others judgement. These people are rare so once you find them, don't let them go easily.