Premeditation of Evils: The Stoic’s Way of Expecting the Unexpected

The Stoic school of philosophy contains the phrase Premeditatio Malorum, literally translating to premeditation of evils. What this means is that the Stoics took time to imagine things that could go wrong in life and things taken away from us. They wanted to be as prepared as possible for things that could be unexpected so that they could behave with virtue when the time came.

In the modern day this still applies. Do you know what you would do if you suddenly lost your job? Or if your partner wanted to break up? Or if one of your loved ones received a terminal diagnosis? What if you became permanently disabled, or lost your speech, sight or hearing? What if you got sued for all of your money?

As painful as those scenarios are to imagine, the Stoics viewed this exercise as important. They believed that unlucky events fell heaviest on those who least expected them, those who were least prepared. In understanding the possibility for ill fortune, they experienced more gratitude for times of good fortune but also a readiness in the event that things changed.

The premeditation of evils can extend a little further too, for events that aren’t considered disastrous but could still be unexpected. If you are in a relationship, do you know what you would do if an attractive work colleague started seducing you? Do you know what you would do if you or your partner became pregnant? If you are single, do you know what you would do if the subject of your admiration started showing real interest? Do you know what you would do if the amount in your bank account suddenly contained a few extra zeroes in error? Do you know what you’d do if your best friend asked you to be their alibi in a criminal case?

Imagining these kind of scenarios gives us a chance to respond to these situations in line with our values, instead of being panicked or feeling reactive if and when these relatively unexpected, yet impactful events occur.

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British-born Chinese guy who wants to inspire and help others by sharing wisdom and learning through one's own experiences. Main interests are health and fitness, psychology, sales and sports.

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