#11: Passion vs. Addiction, Socratic Two-Column Technique

Marcus Aurelius reimagined, and morning journal techniques

🏹 Stoic Wisdom Arrows

✍️ Inside My Daily Stoic Journal Practice: In this episode, I take you behind the scenes of my daily Stoic morning journal routine. I explain how I organize my journal to set the stage for a successful day, remind myself of what's valuable, and ensure that I act with resilience and tranquility.

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🎙️ Jules Evans and Jon Brooks discuss Stoicism and Ecstatic Experiences.

In this episode, we explore the wonders and limitations of Stoic philosophy, discuss near-death experiences, delve into the value of ecstatic experiences, share stories from ayahuasca retreats, and much more. Listen here.

💡 Stoicism Reimagined: Marcus Aurelius as a Traffic Warden

Lately, I have been experimenting with ChatGPT, and I am in the process of creating a course/app that will help you harness the immense power of AI alongside ancient wisdom. Recently, I asked ChatGPT to reimagine a famous quote by Marcus Aurelius as if he were a traffic warden in New York City. Here is the insightful rewrite:

When my alarm blares in the pre-dawn New York haze, I gotta remind myself: the drivers and pedestrians I’m gonna face today might be a pain – honking, rolling their eyes, maybe throwin’ a snide comment or two. They’re like this ‘cause they don’t know any better. But, man, I’ve seen good people out here, and I’ve seen the kinda bad that makes you wish you stayed in bed. And I know that underneath that road rage, there’s a person, kinda like me. We ain't family or nothin’, but we’re all just tryin’ to get by in this concrete jungle. They can’t bring me down. They can’t make me feel like garbage. And I ain’t gonna waste my time bein’ mad at ‘em either. We’re all part of this crazy city – like the cogs in a yellow cab's engine. Getting in each other’s way, throwing fits? That ain’t what we’re here for. We gotta keep the traffic movin’, and sometimes that means keepin’ cool and rememberin’ we’re all human.

Can you guess the original quote? Let me know. 👇

🧰 Stoic Toolbox: Two-Column Technique (With Free Template)

Over the past few months, I’ve immersed myself in Donald Robertson’s enlightening course on Socrates, titled 'How to Live Like Socrates'. The course has broadened my understanding of Socrates and refined my perceptions of life and communication.

In the course, Donald introduces the "Two-Column Technique." He explains:

Socrates draws two columns marked with the Greek letters Δ (delta) and Α (alpha), which he explains are to stand respectively for the virtue of justice (dikaiosune) and the vice of injustice (adikia) – two opposing concepts that he's seeking to define. He then brainstorms several specific activities that Euthydemus agrees look, at first glance, like they should be classed as examples of injustice: “lying”, “deceit”, “mischief”, “enslavement”, etc. This can all be listed in the column headed "injustice".

However, Socrates then rattles of a series of exceptions showing ways in which each of his examples could potentially be moved across to the opposing column instead, falling under the heading of "justice". For example, Euthydemus didn’t hesitate to say that deception was unjust but Socrates, using one of his favourite examples, asks him whether it is just or unjust for an appointed general to deceive the enemy when at war. The youth admits that under certain circumstances, he would put certain instances of lying in the "justice" column.


If you want to try this as a form of self-examination, the steps can be summarized very easily as follows:

Draw two columns. Identify a virtue to explore and the corresponding vice then draw two columns using these as headings. This dialogue used justice and injustice but you could pick courage and cowardice, kindness and cruelty, or whatever takes your fancy.

List examples. Brainstorm roughly 3-4 examples of the virtue and write them down in the corresponding column. (You might find it helps, though, to be a little more specific than Socrates was above.)

Identify exceptions. Ask yourself whether for each example there could be any exceptions, situations where it belongs in the other (vice) column instead. For instance, although Euthydemus assumes lying is unjust he recognizes that lying to protect a friend who has lost his mind might be an exception. Could your example of a virtue ever become a vice?

Formulate definition. Try to arrive at a general definition that covers all the examples of the virtue but excludes those of the vice. Socrates doesn't actually reach this stage in the dialogue above but that's okay, often the Socratic Method ends in uncertainty about the general definition being sought. You should, if possible, try to arrive at a conclusion at the end of the exercise, though.

I’ve gone ahead and created a Notion template that you can use to practice this technique.

👻 Passion vs. Addiction

I'm engrossed in Dr. Gabor Mate's book, 'In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts'. It's a poignant yet unsettling exploration of addiction. A particular passage on the distinction between passion and addiction resonated with me:

“The difference between passion and addiction is that between a divine spark and a flame that incinerates. Passion is divine fire: it enlivens and makes holy; it gives light and yields inspiration. Passion is generous because it’s not ego-driven; addiction is self-centred. Passion gives and enriches; addiction is a thief. Passion is a source of truth and enlightenment; addictive behaviours lead you into darkness. You’re more alive when you are passionate, and you triumph whether or not you attain your goal. But an addiction requires a specific outcome that feeds the ego; without that outcome, the ego feels empty and deprived. A consuming passion that you are helpless to resist, no matter what the consequences, is an addiction.

You may even devote your entire life to a passion, but if it’s truly a passion and not an addiction, you’ll do so with freedom, joy and a full assertion of your truest self and values. In addiction, there’s no joy, freedom or assertion. The addict lurks shame-faced in the shadowy corners of her own existence. I glimpse shame in the eyes of my addicted patients in the Downtown Eastside and, in their shame, I see mirrored my own.

Addiction is passion’s dark simulacrum and, to the naïve observer, its perfect mimic. It resembles passion in its urgency and in the promise of fulfillment, but its gifts are illusory. It’s a black hole. The more you offer it, the more it demands. Unlike passion, its alchemy does not create new elements from old. It only degrades what it touches and turns it into something less, something cheaper. Am I happier after one of my self-indulgent sprees?

Like a miser, in my mind I recount and catalogue my recent purchases — a furtive Scrooge, hunched over and rubbing his hands together with acquisitive glee, his heart growing ever colder. In the wake of a buying binge, I am not a satisfied man. Addiction is centrifugal. It sucks energy from you, creating a vacuum of inertia. A passion energizes you and enriches your relationships. It empowers you and gives strength to others. Passion creates; addiction consumes — first the self and then the others within its orbit.”

🤝 Friend of Wisdom

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Thank you for reading. As Stoics, we understand that the future is uncertain, so let's say, "I will be in touch soon, fate permitting!"

Jon Brooks