Daily Stoic

How a Few Can Help The Many

How a Few Can Help The Many

Perhaps you know the story of the 300 Spartans. It was first immortalized by Herodotus, and then has been passed down through the ages (there’s a wonderful Steven Pressfield novel about it). If you don’t know the story, here’s what happens: Facing an invading army of some 300,000 Persian soldiers that threatened to annihilate Greece, King Leonidas led just 300 Spartan warriors into battle in a desperate attempt to buy his neighboring countries a chance to coordinate and defend themselves. For three days, the soldiers fought at what’s known today as the Hot Gates, against so many Persian archers and soldiers that it was said their arrows blocked out the sun. Eventually, inevitably, the Spartans fell, but not before they had slowed Xerxes and his invaders down enough to save the free world. In their honor, the poet Simonides provides this epitaph:Stranger passing by, tell the LacedaemoniansHere we lie, having obeyed their orders. You sit here reading this email, in part, because of their brave sacrifice. Just as you sit here because of the soldiers who landed at Normandy, and, if you’re in a democracy, because of the sacrifices of Cato (who attempted to save the Roman Republic) and George Washington (who, inspired by Cato, founded America). These were missions that required immense selflessness, and all the Stoic virtues: Courage. Temperance. Justice. Wisdom. The few helped to save and serve the many. Have you seen the meme being passed around these days, in the time of COVID-19, the global pandemic ravaging countless nations? It shows a row of matches. The first several are burned out. One rests slightly below and all the matches to the right of it remain like new. “The one who stayed away,” it says, “saved all the rest.” (And think about the opposite: Patient 31 in South Korea, instead of staying away, potentially infected many people and may have ruined South Korea’s containment of the virus out of pure recklessness). If you want to know what you can do right now, how to help in this crisis, it doesn’t require a sacrifice like the heroes mentioned here. It’s much simpler. Stay at home. Listen to the pleadings and warnings—these are not for fun. Yes, you’re young. Yes, you’ll probably survive catching the Coronavirus, but a person you give it to, or the hospital bed you take from them? That’s a much more serious scenario. Help them by flattening the curve. Help buy them and the system some time. Rush to the Hot Gates… by staying home.This is not a drill. Don’t be selfish. We’ve talked for a long time about what a good person looks like, what a philosopher is. Well? Now is the time to be one. 

Duration: 4 min

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