Putting Your Stoicism To The Test


My Twitter feed has blown up today debating the latest turn in the student debt problem which is moving closer to having debtors' first $50,000 forgiven. The reaction I've seen has been very strong in both directions. One person said that thy want their mortgage forgiven then since they have no student debt and one former, younger congresswoman said that she was lucky enough to make it through with very little debt but supports the forgiveness idea because she's "not an asshole."

I certainly have a lot of questions. Will there be a backlash from people who managed to pay off their debt without this sort of help? Will there be some sort of unintended moral hazard consequence to the extent some people made bad decisions and are now getting bailed out and so maybe they won't learn from their mistakes and go on to make bigger mistakes later? On the other hand, I would not want to have to make a decision at 18 about taking on mortgage sized debt for an education as it is likely most 18 year olds don't fully understand the long term implications of taking on a massive debt load so young. College costs have been rocketing higher faster than just about anything other than maybe healthcare for decades and the argument that the system is now broken because of that inflation holds some water.

For the vast majority of people, this is an outcome that is beyond their control. A critical building block for stoicism is that you focus on and worry about things that are within your control. In personal finance terms, we talk all the time here about being able to have some measure of control over spending and saving and that you might be able to train yourself to avoid panicking over market volatility because volatility and crashes are happen occasionally and they are beyond your control. If you realize there will be large, fast declines every so often and that once the decline is over, the market will then work its way back up, we just don't know how long it will take. Once you truly accept that, then you are very likely in a position to be in control of your emotions and not succumb to your emotions when the market does crash.

If the incoming administration does forgive some amount of student debt how will it effect you? Chances are it won't effect you unless you are a borrower who is getting some of their debt canceled. You may disagree with the idea but will it adversely effect you in any way? I'm not talking about some sort of moral hazard that might come down the line, I mean just the simple act of implementing debt forgiveness, does it hurt you in any way? The way I see it, the politicians are going to make this call (that is beyond your control) and unless I am missing something it doesn't directly hurt someone. Note that I am not saying it is fair to the people who were able to pay their debt or to those who paid for school by working and spreading it out getting their degrees over long periods of time, it's not but it is still beyond your control and doesn't directly hurt you so getting upset seems to be wasted emotion.

Speaking personally, when I graduated I had $3000 in student debt, my minimum payment was $100 per calendar quarter and I didn't have to start making payments for several years after I graduated. I made a couple of years worth of quarterly payments and then just wrote a check to be done with it when I was around 28. I realize how lucky I was on this front but the point is I have gone decades without having to anguish over a no end in sight student loan balance. That has value. In my case that's about 25 years of a source of stress that has not been present in my life. If you paid off your student debt at some point along the way then you have gone that many years free from the stress a no end in sight student loan balance. I have no idea if that will resonate with anyone else of course but it is a positive take, you met your obligation, you succeeded and haven't had to stress over something that many people do stress over. I take that as win personally and encourage others to do the same.

Life is easier when you can stop worrying about things beyond your control and find the positives where they exist. This is why stoicism is so appealing to me. I think a lot of people see the value in this and make some efforts to pursue the philosophy. Getting upset beyond drawing a simple conclusion and then moving on from something that politicians may or may not enact is a great litmus test for anyone looking to benchmark how stoic they are.

The picture is from Navajo National Monument.