Thursday, December 5, 2013

Notes on Letter I


Of all of Seneca's letters, I think Letter I ranks as one of my top ten to read, if not the first. It doesn't take long to be introduced to the frankness in his tone, which at times can sound harsh. But you can easily tell that he cares for Lucilius.

The main focus of Letter I is about saving time, or more to the point, about not wasting our time.

Seneca writes that our time escapes us in many ways, but the worst way to lose it is by carelessness. I couldn't agree more. Of course, agreeing doesn't mean doing, and I admit I'm very careless of my time. Indeed, I find myself wasting time, as he writes, "a goodly share...doing nothing." But even Seneca admits he wastes his time, too, though he says that he "free-handed, but careful."

One of the reasons I love this Letter is because of the lessons he gives. He advises Lucilius to do today's tasks and not depend so much on tomorrow. He tells us a man is not poor, if what little he has is enough for him. And, even better, I can draw out a couple of Stoic exercises out of this.

Stoic Exercises: Letter I

1) Senca writes, "What man can you show me who places any value on his time, who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily?" Ask yourself, is there anyone who does? Think about family, friends, teachers. Do any of them value time? It's okay to think of bad examples, but at some point you have to turn the question to yourself and ask if you really value your time as much as you should. Remember, you or I could be dead before the next sentence. Are we really using our time wisely?

2) Seneca writes that he is free-handed with his time, but careful. He goes on to say, however, that he can at least tell us why he is a "poor man" in this regard. A Stoic exercise here is to take time thinking about what we do and, at the very least, know what we spend our time on. It's the first step to taking some of it back.

Further Thoughts

There's a tactic I've read about in minimalism that asks people to look at what they buy and figure out how much time at work they spend to buy said item. It really isn't meant for things like food and bills (though some bills can be done away with), but more like trinkets and other things that we don't really need, but want. So, for example, we want a Starbucks coffee, which for a good one can cost $3. If you're making, say, $8 an hour, that means that coffee took 22.5 minutes of your time to earn. Now, seeing as work is, for most of us, time we must spend, we could ask ourselves this: if I acted like money was time, would I spend my money differently? Indeed, at the wage I'm making, it would take me a quarter of an hour (give or take a few minutes) to earn that coffee. Is it worth it?

Sure, the Letter itself doesn't deal with money, but if we are going to be losing time earning said money, shouldn't we treat our money a little better, too?

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