I don’t have a tattoo, but if I did it would say Summon Bonum.
I’ve been studying the ancient Greek philosophy of Stoicism. In my limited understanding, the Stoics aimed to live by the Latin phrase Summon Bonum, meaning the highest good. For the Stoics, the highest good is embodied in four virtues – Wisdom, Temperance, Courage and Justice. You might recognize these as the four Cardinal virtues.
Since learning about Summon Bonum, I have repeatedly stopped myself when my thoughts, words and actions weren’t even close to reaching those four virtuous ideals.
I wondered if this idea from Stoicism could help me finally break a stupid modern vice I had for so long. For almost three decades, I had the bad habit of drinking an excessive amount of soda.
The trouble began when I had a baby who didn’t sleep. Every day I made three or four trips to the teachers’ lounge vending machine. I can still hear the sound of that can filled with sweet fizzy energy tumbling down through the machine and into this exhausted mama’s hands.
Thirty years later, I was still physically and mentally addicted, not only to the chemicals, caffeine and carbonation, but also to the ritual of drinking soda. No matter how many times I tried, I could never break the habit.
I can now say I have completely quit drinking soda. Want to know how?
Summon Bonum, baby!
Thinking about my habit from the Stoic perspective of the four virtues gave me the push I needed to break the habit for good.
Wisdom – Drinking soda isn’t wise. It’s dumb. Research shows drinking soda has an undeniably negative impact on our weight, kidneys, digestive system, bones, heart, lungs and brain. I felt like a phony trying to live a simple, intentional life while continuing to do such a stupid thing. Epictetus said, “Don’t explain your philosophy; embody it.”
Temperance – Quitting bad habits and establishing good habits has everything to do with temperance, or self-control. I admire those who have employed enormous self-discipline to overcome addictions to smoking, alcohol and drugs. They inspire me to overcome my less serious, but still difficult, addiction to soda. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”
Courage – I’m awe-struck by those who have summoned great bravery when faced with dangerous, painful or difficult challenges. My battle with a can of soda isn’t on par with facing lions, shipwrecks or captors, but it takes courage to conquer even the simplest of challenges. Seneca said, “He who is brave is free.”
Justice – Is it possible my soda habit was a form of injustice? If defined as something that causes harm, then yes. It takes a tremendous amount of natural resources to produce, package, transport and sell soda. It’s hard for me to think about guzzling soda when some people in the world have a shortage of clean drinking water. I shudder to think about the amount of trash my personal soda habit has created in the form of bottles, cans, cups and straws. I don’t want to cause harm to the environment or my fellow man. Socrates said, “Nothing is to be preferred to justice.”
Stoicism is a lofty and complicated philosophy. I am certainly no expert and have likely over-simplified it, as I am apt to do. All I know is it helped me quit soda for good. With or without that tattoo, I look forward to exploring ways I can further improve my life by applying two simple, but powerful, words – Summon Bonum. §