Therefore the wise man will lose nothing which he will be able to regard as loss; for the only possession he has is virtue, and of this he can never be robbed. – Seneca
What does that mean?
This is an interesting quote in that it teaches you a new way to look at what you possess. The question it asks is what do you truly own, and what cannot be taken from you.
In this case, virtue is the answer the quote gives. Other related answers might include character or ethics, each of which are tightly intertwined with a person’s virtue, or their lack thereof.
The quote states that a wise person should avoid becoming attached to anything which could be lost or stolen from them. Life can be cruel, and things can disappear.
If you are not too attached to it, the loss amounts to nothing of any significance. Things that life will die. Things that work will break. None are any great loss to someone who understands this.
Why is not getting too attached important?
Think back to your youth. How many heartaches did you suffer from attachment? Love affairs, and breakups. Attachment and loss. The roller coaster of love is primarily driven by how tightly you attach yourself and your happiness to the other individual. How much happier could your teen years have been?
The quote warns us against this kind of attachment, as loss is inevitable. However, I don’t believe it is telling us to feel nothing. I believe there is plenty of room between attachment and vacancy for love to grow, for friendships to blossom, and for our lives to be enriched by being with others.
The trick is not to try to tie our happiness to that person. The same pattern applies to things. There is room between attachment and disregard for your house, your car, your bike, your computer, your phone, or any other thing. Getting attached to it, and tying your happiness to it, that is not particularly wise, is it?
How many of you recognize the pain caused by attaching too tightly to someone or something? Again, it doesn’t mean we feel nothing. There is plenty of room between too much and too little. And that is the challenge of our lives is to find that middle path, and stay on it, lest a thief try and steal it from us.
Where can I apply this in my life?
Take a moment and consider the times when you have been attached, too attached, to someone or something. Relationships and cars came to mind for me, as they were rather troublesome for me in my youth. Even worse than attachment, some of these became part of my identity, that is who I was and how I viewed myself.
Imagine the crash that comes after a loss of something which is part of your very identity. Think of all the various super-heroes and how they dealt with the loss, however temporary, of whatever it was that made them super. How did it impact them when they couldn’t do what they were used to doing? Not pretty, was it?
That’s a pretty extreme version of attachment, right? But what of your physical self? Have you ever considered yourself quite strong, quick, or well coordinated? Age will eventually steal that from you. Then what? Is that going to have a significant impact on your identity? Are you attached to it?
Again, there is room between attachment and apathy, so you don’t have to abandon any of it completely. Just heed the warning of the quote, and not become so attached to it that the loss of it would bother you more than the loss of anything else in your life. It might sound difficult, but it can be done.
Yes, the people you love will be difficult to handle in this manner. That is until you realize that so long as you love them, and don’t attach your happiness to them, you will be fine by the definition of this quote. If you don’t consider them a possession, you should be good to go. It will hurt, yes, but it won’t be a loss.
There may be some argument over the terms I’m using. I acknowledge that. The English language isn’t very precise in some of its aspects. Nor are any of the words defined without overlap. I hope you will take a few moments and set aside your personal definitions and consider what I have written with an open mind.
Take a moment and consider what you would consider a loss if it were to be taken from you. While it may be hard for some to think as much like a Stoic as this application requires, try. If you lost your house, you could eventually get another. If you lost your job, you could eventually get another.
Yes, life would be tough, but it would only be tougher if you were attached to that which you lost. Not only would you be lacking the lost part of your life, but you would also be in mourning or otherwise emotionally distraught for the loss. Ultimately, that is what the quote is warning us against.