The ancient Stoics believed that we could use the idea of a perfect practitioner of Stoicism, a Sage, as a role model to improve ourselves. This ideal Stoic could be used to compare how we live our life and how much further we have to improve ourselves. For the beginner, this may be a daunting challenge. While watching re-runs one night, I hit on another idea; the Anti-Stoic. This would be an example that a beginner could easily see what to avoid to further their own well-being and happiness.
In steps Dr. Frasier Crane.
Frasier, which ran from 1993 to 2004 was about Doctor Crane, a psychiatrist who hosted a radio show in Seattle, and his quirky father and brother. His father was a retired police officer who moved in with his physical therapist after being shot and his brother was also a psychiatrist who shared many of his passions.
Through eleven seasons of Frasier, Dr. Crane and his brother repeatedly got themselves stuck in amusing situations that they would have easily avoided if they had practiced Stoicism (though it wouldn’t make a very entertaining show). Lets look at Dr. Crane and how we can learn from his mistakes.
- Obsessed with the opinion of others.
Many of Frasier’s mishaps stem from his inability to not worry about the opinions of others. He cannot fathom the thought that his peers may think he didn’t have tickets for the newest opera or wasn’t invited to a cocktail party.
“If you shape your life according to nature, you will never be poor; if according to people’s opinions, you will never be rich.” Epicurus quoted by Seneca, Ep. XVI
- Ate only the best foods/wines.
Frasier and his brother could afford the finest delicacies and wines, which they savoured. Throughout the seasons they showed that their preference for gourmet food hindered their ability to enjoy the simpler fare of the less wealthy.
Musonius Rufus takes a very hard line against gourmet foods. “Furthermore, a craving for gourmet food is nothing other than lack of moderation with respect to exotic food.” ~ Stobaeus* 3.18.37 On Lack of Self-Control
There’s nothing wrong with eating gourmet foods and the best wines, if you can afford them, but there is a hidden danger. Once you acquire a taste for ”fine” foods, you may begin to obsess over them and not be able to enjoy “simple” foods.
- Strives to keep up with fashions.
Most of Frasier’s quests involved keeping up-to-date with the latest opera or Broadway show. On several occasions he spends excessive energy to acquire tickets for a sold out show that he “has” to see because all of his peers will be there.
“Let me give you, though, this one piece of advice: refrain from following the example of those whose craving is for attention, not their own improvement, by doing certain things which are calculated to give rise to comment on your appearance or way of living generally.” ~ Seneca, Ep. V
If Frasier would have waited and missed the sold-out show he would have still been able to view it and could discuss it later amongst his peers at a soiree. This way he would have enjoyed the show and not had all the added stress of acquiring that phantom ticket.
- Could not take an insult.
Frasier could not take an insult. When a fellow radio host, Bob “Bulldog” Briscoe begins to pull pranks on Frasier to the amusement of his audience (and us the viewers), Frasier loses all control and becomes enraged. Eventually, Frasier decides to get revenge and almost gets fired because his prank backfires and hurts his boss.
As Epictetus says, “Remember that it is not he who reviles you or strikes you, who insults you, but it is your opinion about these things as being insulting. When a man irritates you, you must know that it is your own opinion which has irritated you.” ~XX, Enchiridion
Frasier clearly thought that Bulldog was a person “beneath” him. If he would have taken the Stoic’s advice he would have decided that the insult was not worth a response.
While Frasier would have been a much happier character if he would have lived by the Stoics’ advice it would not have been an entertaining show. Never-the-less, we can use his mishaps to learn for ourselves how our own opinions and actions can influence our happiness.