Not too long ago I was having breakfast with a friend, and during the course of the conversation, she referred to me as being “stoic”. That word gave me a very deep-seated feeling that she thought I was depressed or that I was filled with doom and gloom. I am neither and I told her I was not in the slightest way depressed, that my glass nearly always is half-full. I was truly offended by the word she used to describe me.
The discussion of the word began. She explained that the word (to her) meant someone who was fiercely independent, who never depended on anyone to make one’s own happiness: a definition with a positive connotation (for me)
I countered that I thought the word was associated with gloom and doom: a definition with a negative connotation. She did not agree with that definition.
We agreed to shelf the word until we referred to Webster. According to him, Stoic comes from the Greeks, and the word is derived from stoa, which means a porch or colonnade. Zeno, a philosopher around 308 B.C., founded a school of philosophy who called themselves Stoics (because they met under a colonnade). They “believed that all happenings were the result of divine will and that therefore man should be calmly accepting and free from passion, grief, or joy.”
Further investigating the word, I went to trusty Roget’s (thesaurus), and he included being a patient man, apathetic, and calm.
Neither one of us were right “on the spot”, and to tell you, I am nothing like Webster’s definition; although, I am patient, and I am (99% of the time) calm. Never, ever apathetic, which refers back to Zeno’s philosophy.
How important words are in our society and getting along with one another! Here we were, two friends having a conversation when one word brought two polarized meanings. What kind of ill feelings would have been harbored if we did not discuss the word, if we would not have spoken up and explained our definition? I wonder how many times during a day when two people, maybe not friends, say a word and one person believes the word means one thing, and the other person believes the word means something else. That one word can cause ill feelings, or a tense situation, unless the word is acknowledged, explored and discussed between those people.
Fast forward that thought to different cultures, different nationalities, and I can imagine the problems words bring into our world.
For another idea on how to define “Stoic” see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rob-goodman/five-reasons-why-stoicism_b_1925670.html