The motto of the United States—seen imprinted on its currency and its buildings—is e pluribus unum: “Out of many, one.”
It happens that this is also more or less the aim of Stoicism too, to take the many parts of a person and turn them into a unified, coherent soul. Each of us is made up of competing desires and impulses and needs, yet all of this is part of who we are. More importantly, with work and study, philosophy is designed to integrate and order all of this into its proper place within us.
On a larger level, Stoicism—as a kind of civic religion in Rome—was designed to take the many and turn them into one thing, a Roman. Seneca was from
Cordoba. Epictetus was from
Hierapolis. Marcus was from
Rome proper. These are diverse and far flung places, each had their own spin and their own style, yet they became part of a larger whole of Stoicism and the Roman empire. It was their notions of duty and responsibility and their sense of right and wrong that made this happen, that aligned interests and beliefs and lifestyles.
If you step back even further you can see how we, ourselves, are melded in and absorbed into this larger tradition and process. Time and distance and technology collapse temporal and geographic and cultural boundaries so that we may become one. Part of the same whole that the ancient Stoics were a part of..This is sympatheia
—on the individual and the marco level.
Unfortunately, we are losing that unifying thrust these days. As the documentarian Ken Burns has joked, there is too much pluribus and not enough unum. There’s too much focus on our individual selves and our differences and not what we hold in common or what joins us together.
This is a tragedy. It causes needless strife and conflict. Which is why today, as you walk the streets or the halls of your office, think about this process—the way we can become part of something larger than ourselves, what we share in common and what we can do for each other. Unity is better than division. Many is better than one only when the many become one.
But it starts...with you.
We think that every leader and citizen should think deeply about this idea of sympatheia
. We were made for each other and to serve a common good, as Marcus put it. That’s why we made our Sympatheia challenge coin
, which can serve as a practical, tangible reminder of the causes and the larger whole we are all members of. You can check it out in the Daily Stoic store