The viciousness of the mob is one of the darker themes in Roman history. There was the angry crowd that tore Saturninus to pieces during Marius’s time. There were the grieving, angry citizens who, riled up by Mark Antony’s funeral oration after the death of Caesar, murdered the poet Cinna just because he had the same name as one of the conspirators.
It’s scary what a group of people can do when the unwritten rules of civil society break down. There is perhaps no better day to think about this than Black Friday in America. Fresh off the gratitude of Thanksgiving, we decide to reward ourselves by greedily gorging on stuff.
It is hard to think of a day whose entire purpose sits in greater conflict with the Stoic notion of sympatheia. The same people who were previously sitting peacefully with their family are now ready to engage in hand-to-hand combat over a deal on a flat screen television. Instead of enjoying the time off, people have been lined up for hours in the cold to buy more and more crap they don’t actually need, at lower and lower prices. Not to replace the crap they bought last Black Friday, mind you, but to add to the pile. The only cost Black Friday shoppers don’t mind paying for these savings? Yelling matches, countless traffic accidents, and the collateral damage of retail employees being trampled to death. (There’s a website that tallies ‘Black Friday Death Counts’ if you’re really curious.)
As Marcus wrote in Meditations, “What’s bad for the hive is bad for the bee.” It’s hard to argue that Black Friday is good for anyone or anything but the bottom line of big business. So instead of following the masses on a shopping spree—and possibly a killing spree—it would be nice if you spent this morning thinking about the bigger picture—the biggest picture.
We should be humane to each other because we are all human, all part of the same larger body. We spring from the same soil and will each return to it alike one day. When we forget this, it not only hurts other people—makes countless millions mourn—but it hurts us as well.
“Revere the gods, and look after each other,” Marcus Aurelius reminds us. “Life is short—the fruit of this life is a good character and acts for the common good.” That is what sympatheia is about. That’s what Oikeiôsis, affinity for your fellow humans, is about. We should live that every day, frankly, but we should be especially mindful of it today.
As the exact opposite of a Black Friday deal, we’re selling our Sympatheia coins at full price at Daily Stoic, until Monday December 2nd 6am. BUT, if you buy one, we’ll give you another one free to give to a friend, family member, or colleague who could benefit from it.
As we begin the holiday season, we hope you keep this concept in mind when you’re dealing with difficult in-laws, travel delays, or crowds and long lines. Don’t let the modern spirit of materialism and selfishness infect you. Instead, we must all focus on reminders that we are not alone, that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that there is a greater good to which we all owe a duty, above and beyond our own se