The Stoics employed the Socratic method of questioning, the elenchus, which exposes contradictions in the beliefs of the person being questioned—a bit like the cross-examination of a witness in a court of law. They believed above all that the wise man is consistent in both his thoughts and actions. Foolish people, by contrast, vacillate, driven by contradictory passions, which flutter from one thing to another like butterflies. That’s why we often hear the Stoics praising the wise man for remaining “the same” no matter what he faces—even his facial expression and demeanor remain consistent come rain or shine. Marcus quite probably underwent this sort of questioning from Rusticus and his other Stoic tutors as part of the Stoic therapy. One of the main things it tends to highlight is any contradiction between the values we use to guide our own lives, or the things we desire, and the values we use to judge other people, or what we find praiseworthy and blameworthy. Therapists today would call this a “double standard.”
This sort of Socratic questioning forms part of an approach called “values clarification,” which has been around since the 1970s but has recently gone through a resurgence of popularity among therapists and researchers.30 By deeply reflecting on our values each day and attempting to describe them concisely, we can develop a clearer sense of direction in life. You might do this by posing questions to yourself such as:
• What’s ultimately the most important thing in life to you?
• What do you really want your life to stand for or represent?
• What do you want to be remembered for after you’re dead?
• What sort of person do you most want to be in life?
• What sort of character do you want to have?
• What would you want written on your tombstone?
I think that four of these questions are good. I dislike "What do you want to be remembered for after you’re dead?" and "What would you want written on your tombstone?". But the other four are good.
Regarding "What’s ultimately the most important thing in life to you?", it seems to me like if one does not have a clear answer to that question, that's a problem, and I don't have a clear answer. I have an idea of what I think the answer should be – something like "reason" or "rationality" or maybe "being intellectually engaged and living with integrity" with relates pretty strongly to reason/rationality ... but I don't see that my actual life reflects that valuation. I don't think my life is totally inconsistent with rationality either. I read philosophy and have been trying to build up better habits and that sort of thing. But there's not a total integration either, like you would hope there would be for a most important value. So that would seem to indicate that either my most important value is something else or that perhaps I don't really have one. Troubling.