Stoicism is a life-guiding philosophy that has become very popular. Stoicism was founded over 2000 years ago by Zeno in Athens. Stoicism is guided by four main virtues, those being: Courage, Justice, Temperance, and Wisdom. Stoicism also revolves around the mindset that you are the only one in control of your life and your reactions to the outside world. That is to say: things are not good nor bad, things just are, it is our reaction to them that makes them one or the other.
Fight Club is one of my favorite movies. In an article written in The Daily Stoic, a scene from Fight Club is mentioned as being representative of Stoicism. I decided to do some more research (Read as: rewatch Fight Club) and see if I could find any other Stoic wisdom to share from the film.
Disclaimer: Fight Club spoilers coming up. Also though, if you haven’t seen Fight Club you are 21 years late, the statute of limitations on spoilers is up.
“I want you to hit me.”
Okay, so in Fight Club, The Narrator (Ed Norton) and Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) end up being the same person. This is interesting because throughout the entire movie they are constantly engaging in acts of physical violence with one another meaning The Narrator is fighting himself. In the first fight scene a conversation between the two characters goes like so:
Durden “I want you to hit me.”
Durden “Why? I don’t know why I’ve never been in a fight.”
Narrator “But, that’s a good thing.”
Durden “No it is not, how much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”
The first of the four virtues of Stoicism is Courage. The ancient philosopher and roman stoic Seneca is quoted having said this about courage:
“If you have passed through life without an opponent no one can know what you are truly capable of, not even you.”
Tyler Durden asks the same question, “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” Now I am not recommending going outside right now and getting in a fight, nor am I recommending literally, or figuratively, beating yourself up. Rather, challenge yourself. Challenge yourself to learn a new skill, challenge yourself to read a book you’ve been scared of, challenge yourself to run a 5K, just go out and see what you are capable of.
Similarly, take note of the challenges you have faced throughout your life. Maybe you’ve lost a job, maybe you’ve lost a loved one, or maybe you are just stuck in quarantine during COVID-19 with your entire family. Whatever it is, we have all been challenged before and to continue to grow we must continue to challenge ourselves.
“Raymond, you are going to die.”
In the iconic gun to your head scene in Fight Club, Tyler Durden goes into a local convenience store and puts a gun to the head of the cashier. After finding out that Raymond K. Hessel, the clerk, dropped out of community college this exchange follows:
Durden “What did you want to be Raymond K. Hessel?”
Clerk “A veterinarian, a veterinarian.”
Durden “That means more schooling.”
Clerk “Too much school.”
Durden “Would you rather be dead.”
Durden “I’m going to check in on you. If you’re not on your way to becoming a veterinarian in six weeks you are going to be dead.”
Okay, so obviously, I am not recommending anyone go and threaten another and force them to follow their dreams. I am also certainly not recommending you threaten yourself. Quite simply, as mentioned in The Daily Stoic, I think we should all treat our lives as if there is a gun to our head. Marcus Aurelius, an ancient Roman Emperor, has the following quote:
“You could leave life right now… do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life.”
Quite simply I’m recommending you take a risk and follow your dreams. It sounds corny, I know, and of course, it is easier said than done. Make sure you’re taking reasonable risks, but ultimately you could not wake up tomorrow… if that was the case what would you do today? Say that thing out loud, and then do that thing. Well, first finish reading this and click the like button and follow me on Twitter, then follow your dreams.
“The First Rule about Fight Club”
Okay even if you haven’t seen the move you certainly know this quote:
“The first rule of Fight Club is, you do not talk about Fight Club.”
Tyler Durden and The Narrator have created Fight Club and followed their dreams. (The dream turns out to be destroying the world, so maybe don’t do that, but the point stands.) The important part about this is that they didn’t talk about it, they just did it. Another of the Stoic Virtues is Wisdom. It is important to learn from others, from the world around us, from great texts, from the great mistakes and success of history.
The founder of Stoicism, Zeno, who we’ve mentioned earlier has a fantastic quote about talking vs. listening.
“We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.”
Take a look at some of the people you know who are the most successful. No doubt a handful of them are the loudest person in the room; your know it all friend whom it really seems like knows it all. That person is an exception (but also, spoiler alert, they don’t know it all.) The majority of successful people are learners. Listening to the best and learning from them to make sure they become the best. With a head down eyes up intense focus on reaching their goals, these people learn often and speak seldom, but when they open their mouths…everyone stops to listen. So maybe don’t talk about whatever your version of Fight Club is, just do it.
As I’ve mentioned a few times, the characters in Fight Club are far from role models. We should see to it that nobody creates a real-life Project Mayhem, one way we can do this? By practicing Stoicism.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I’d love to chat philosophy, or movies, or anything under the sun, feel free to connect with me here.