Wisdom and Folly are taking opposite sides. Which shall I join? – Seneca
What does that mean?
In the letter from which this quote is taken, Seneca is discussing the difference between Stoics and others when it comes to defining man and friend.
To a Stoic, all of humanity is a friend, as the motivation of friendship is that of service. The other side considers a friend useful only to provide pleasure or to exploit. You can imagine which side he believes is Folly.
Yet this quote applies to more than just friendship, and has implications for the whole of our lives. Sometimes the difference between wisdom and folly are somewhat subtle and rarely considered, like in this case.
Other times it can be fairly obvious, if we take the time to examine the situation and ourselves. Whatever the topic, there are always at least two camps. Be careful which one you join!
Why is taking care when choosing sides important?
The sides in any issue can be as obvious as the clichés from school (jocks, burn-outs, geeks, etc), or it can be more subtle and full of value decisions, like choosing a side in a war or conflict. Sometimes we don’t even think, we just go with what our friends are favoring, or what is not being derided by our friends.
But that can lead to some strange places, where you find yourself in multiple, often contradictory stances on various issues. Now you have to choose which group of friends to alienate. Or better yet, consider what your personal values are, and how you will adjust your positions to best reflect your true self.
Choosing a position on an issue can be trivial. Potato chips or pretzels? But the question for that is which (if either) is wisdom and which is folly? Those labels are usually reserved for more weighty issues. However, there are often consequences to your choices, including expulsion from the group.
But do you really want to be associated with a camp full of fools? Wouldn’t it be better (not easier, but better) to walk away and find a camp with fewer fools? But it will take strength of character, strong values and the willingness to do the research necessary to tell the difference between the camps.
Where can I apply this in my life?
It is easy to go with the flow, to do what others you know or respect are doing. But are you sure they are not camped with the fools? What questions do you need to ask to figure out what is wise and what is foolish? That will depend on the subject, but the questions are usually simple enough to ask.
Where it gets difficult is digging to find the answers. Facts can be stubborn little things. And what do you do when you find out that your tightly held belief no longer holds up to close examination? Do you have the character and integrity to follow the truth to where it takes you, even if it hurts?
That is always the toughest part of choosing which side to join. Often, we continue to go with the same group because we agreed with them at one time. But that doesn’t mean they are in the wise camp in all areas of life. After all, they are human too, and subject to poor judgement from time to time.
Then there is the issue of the “My Team” attitude. Right or wrong, win or lose, they’re my team and I’m sticking to them. That may be fine for a sports team, but a bit less so for a political organization or other large and powerful group of people. Politicians, unions, think tanks, movements, these are all populated by a variety of imperfect humans.
Remember, it isn’t that they are always right or always wrong, but that they have (hopefully) a set of values which guide them, and yours may be a little different. This leads to occasional friction. Intelligent people should be able to disagree on an issue without getting emotional, but it can happen.
Often, when we find ourselves in the camp of fools, we first notice that we are uneasy at some of what is being said or done. We may try to ignore it or bury it under pleasant activities with friends or fellow-travelers. But deep inside, something is telling us that things are not quite right.
Take a moment and consider where in your life you don’t feel completely at home, or uneasy when you are with a group of people. Is it a vague feeling, or do you already know what specific issue is causing you to feel uneasy? If you don’t know, take some time to consider what you believe and how it fits with what they believe or do.
Once you know the issue, it’s time to try to figure out which camp you should join. Why do you believe or act the way you do? Take some time, and write down what is important to you and why. Now do the same for the groups you either are part of, or might wish to join.
The big question is who is right? Pursuing the path of least resistance or the most pleasure is the easiest, but not necessarily the correct path. What will you do? Will you stay where you feel uneasy, or will you try to find a better match in another camp?
The choice is yours, which camp you will join. Just take a little time and examine yourself and them. Try to find the proper path, and join the proper camp, and be willing to be true to yourself above any other consideration.