You can choose a new name
Ancient scribblings and a Disney Star Wars crossover
Yesterday morning on the Daily Stoic podcast, Ryan Holiday started off the week with this passage from Seneca for reflection.
“We are in the habit of saying that it was not in our power to choose the parents who were allotted to us, that they were given to us by chance. But we can choose whose children we would like to be….
Seneca, a Stoic philosopher and advisor to Roman Emperor Nero, was a noted fan of looking beyond your immediate circles of influence for inspiration and belonging. Part of his schtick was to defy Stoic orthodoxy and heap some praise on rival schools of thought. I like reading him. This passage comes from On The Shortness of Live.
It’s true though. We have zero power over certain things, including our parentage. For good or for ill. Some of us draw lucky hands and others not so much. Regardless, you are not deprived of your power to walk in the footsteps of someone with a different last name. In the case of a person with less than noble parents and no intellectual or moral tradition that they're inclined to admire, it can feel like you’re at a dead-end road.
But you’re not.
I’m reminded of Rey, in the Star Wars sequel trilogy. In the final chapter of the Disney trilogy that is when Rey “Nobody” learns she carries the bloodline of Emperor Palpatine (Ewww). In my book How The Force Can Fix The World, I described it like this….
“When Rey learns of her heritage, her world is shattered; her sense of self totally demolished. Up to this point, Rey hasn’t known how she fits into the grand narrative of the galaxy. She knows the Skywalkers are legends, but also knows that no matter how much she looks up to Luke and Leia, she’s not a part of that larger-than-life family. She’s just an admirer. But now, it’s worse. Rey is implicated in a legacy of evil, and burdened with a feeling that she’s somehow fated to continue the family business.
That’s so wrong, isn’t it? Parentage plays a role in shaping us, but so does environment and lived experience. Genetics are just the starting point for our story.
In the end, Rey rejects the call to darkness, like Luke Skywalker did before her. She fights alongside Ben Solo to defeat Emperor Palpatine once and for all. In the finale of the film, Rey is asked by a lowly drifter, “Who are you?”
To which she responds, “I’m Rey…..Rey Skywalker.”
Someone must have been reading Seneca.
After Ryan Holiday’s podcast, I went and grabbed the book from my shelf to read the entire passage from Seneca. It really kind of blew me away. The next segment reads:
….There are households of the noblest intellects: choose the one into which you wish to be adopted, and you will inherit not only their name but their property too. Nor will this property need to be guarded meanly or grudgingly: the more it is shared out, the greater it will become.”
This is Rey’s journey in Star Wars Episodes VII-IX almost down the very last line. From her taking up Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber to choosing his family name, she chose the house whose intellect and virtue she wished to be adopted into. So to must we.
What legacy, intellectual tradition, or way of life are you carrying? Are you being a good steward of those traditions and the namesake you were given?
Have a great week everyone. This is the way.
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