A Stoic difficulty: developing love for humanity (philanthropy)

In previous posts I’ve been expanding on four difficulties probably faced by those of us attempting to practice Stoic philosophy. Here is the fourth: a certain lack of effective exercises for developing “philanthropy,” meaning a love of humanity or love of human beings. This “philanthropy” is itself a great topic and matter for reflection, but I won’t go into that here. I want to focus on the matter of exercises.

When I say that there’s some lack of effective exercises for developing philanthropy, I’m certainly not claiming that historical Stoics (the vast majority of whom are unknown to us) did not develop philanthropy, or that they did not have exercises which helped them to do so. I’m speaking more form my own experience, today, of not finding particularly effective perspectives or methods for this, after fairly extensive study and experimentation.

You will of course encounter, for example, Marcus Aurelius meditating on how we are made to work together, like different parts of a single body. And Hierocles advising to call friends “brother” and “sister,” acquaintances “friend,” and so on. You may find a more recently created exercise combining visualization, Hierocles’ perspective just mentioned, and, seemingly, the form of Buddhist metta meditation.

Yet in all honesty, I have not found these, nor other specifically Stoic exercises, to be highly effective. And I think this may be a challenge for many a modern Stoic or would-be Stoic.

Have you experienced a similar difficulty?

In the follow-up post to this one, “A non-Stoic exercise for Stoic philanthropia,” I offer one suggestion which might help with this challenge.

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