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Stoic Meditations

Stoic Meditations

By Massimo Pigliucci
Occasional reflections on the wisdom of Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers. More at massimopigliucci.com. Please consider supporting Stoic Meditations. (cover art by Marek Škrabák; original music by Ian Jolin-Rasmussen, www.jolinras.info).
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Repetition is useful

Stoic Meditations

Repetition is useful

Stoic Meditations

1x
The difference between pleasure and virtue
If pleasure and virtue were entirely inseparable, we should not see some things to be pleasant, but not honorable, and others most honorable indeed, but hard and only to be attained by suffering.
02:26
September 21, 2020
Reason is the only thing that will make you truly happy
That person is happy, whose reason recommends to them the whole posture of their affairs.
02:38
September 18, 2020
There is no happiness without truth
For no one can be styled happy who is beyond the influence of truth.
02:58
September 17, 2020
Do away with hope and fear
A person may be called “happy” who, thanks to reason, has ceased either to hope or to fear: but rocks also feel neither fear nor sadness, yet no one would call those things happy which cannot comprehend what happiness is.
02:45
September 16, 2020
Fortune vs virtue
The highest good is a mind which despises the accidents of fortune, and takes pleasure in virtue.
02:22
September 15, 2020
Pursue the pleasures of life, in moderation
A happy life must also set due value upon all the things which adorn our lives, without over-estimating any one of them, and must be able to enjoy the bounty of Fortune without becoming her slave.
02:36
September 14, 2020
Don't follow blindly what other say, no matter how famous they are
When I say “our opinion,” I do not bind myself to any one of the chiefs of the Stoic school, for I too have a right to form my own opinion.
02:39
September 11, 2020
Don't go after fool's gold
These good things which men gaze at in wonder, which they crowd to see, which one points out to another with speechless admiration, are outwardly brilliant, but within are miseries to those who possess them.
02:53
September 10, 2020
Living by reason, not by imitation of others
Nothing gets us into greater troubles than our subservience to common rumor, living not by reason but by imitation of others.
02:23
September 9, 2020
What is happiness anyway?
Seneca advises his brother, and us, not to listen to the random "shouts and clamors" of people, but to reflect carefully on what happiness is and how to achieve it.
02:39
September 8, 2020
Do not wish for impossible things
We know that certain things are features of the world. Like the existence of annoying people. Do not wish them away, because that is impossible. Rather, teach them, or bear with them.
02:21
September 7, 2020
Do not wait for Plato's Republic
Do not expect Plato’s Republic: but be content if the smallest thing goes on well, and consider such an event to be no small matter.
02:27
September 4, 2020
Either god or randomness
In a word, if there is a god, all is well; and if chance rules, do not also be governed by it.
02:20
September 3, 2020
Do not concern yourself with other people's opinions
Other people's opinions are not under your control, so focus instead on your own judgments and decisions to act or not to act.
02:23
September 2, 2020
Negative and positive actions on behalf of the cosmopolis
As you yourself are a component part of a social system, so let every act of yours be a component part of social life.
02:44
September 1, 2020
Everything changes
All things are changing: and you yourself are in continuous mutation and in a manner in continuous destruction, and the whole universe, too.
02:16
August 31, 2020
The importance of our ruling faculty
Things stand outside of us, themselves by themselves, neither knowing anything of themselves nor expressing any judgment.
02:35
August 28, 2020
Objective situations and subjective judgments
Today I have got out of all trouble, or rather I have cast out all trouble, for it was not outside, but within and in my opinions.
02:28
August 27, 2020
Apply reason to social improvement
Labor not as one who is wretched, nor yet as one who would be pitied or admired; but direct your will to one thing only: to act or not to act as social reason requires.
02:31
August 26, 2020
Teach them or bear with them
If you are able, correct by teaching those who do wrong; but if you cannot, remember that indulgence is given to you for this purpose.
02:17
August 25, 2020
When peope do wrong they hurt themselves first
He who does wrong does wrong against himself. He who acts unjustly acts unjustly to himself, because he makes himself bad.
02:31
August 24, 2020
Pain, pleasure, and injustice
Our fear of pain and our desire for pleasure sometimes lead to injustice. Let that not be the case.
02:26
August 21, 2020
The nature of injustice
Marcus Aurelius thinks injustice is a type of impiety against the cosmos. Modern Stoics have updated the concept, since we don't believe the universe to be a sentient living being.
03:02
August 20, 2020
Setting up again what chance has overthrown
From a Stoic point of view, there is absolutely nothing more important in life than to exercise our virtue in order to help our fellow brothers and sisters of the human cosmopolis.
02:21
August 19, 2020
Help, instead of pity, others
The wise person will not pity others, but will help them and be of service to them, seeing that he is born to be a help to all people and a public benefit.
02:13
August 18, 2020
The ideal ruler
Seneca details the characteristics of the ideal ruler. We should look for the same in the people who govern us. And in ourselves.
02:46
August 17, 2020
Stoicism in the service of all
No school of philosophy is more gentle and benign, none is more full of love towards man or more anxious to promote the happiness of all.
02:27
August 14, 2020
The opposite of mercy is cruelty
The virtues are never in contradiction with each other. The vices are never good for the people who indulge them.
02:24
August 13, 2020
The nature and importance of mercy
We should all follow Seneca's advice, resisting the urge for revenge and punishment, and practicing mercy and forgiveness.
02:49
August 12, 2020
When cruelty becomes pleasure
Both rulers and ordinary people sometimes turn cruelty into a pleasure. It seriously undermines the most precious thing we all have: our character.
02:42
August 11, 2020
Let us be more forgiving
Seneca reminds us that the human animal is a delicate thing, forgiveness for his mistakes is often in order.
02:26
August 10, 2020
The right and the wrong times to use violence
Turns out that, when the proper criteria are followed, it is almost never the time to use violence, either as a society, or as individuals.
02:49
August 7, 2020
People can change, and so can we
Seneca provides a historically accurate analysis of the life of Octavian Augustus, the first Roman emperor. With implications for how to live our own lives.
02:52
August 6, 2020
The tyrant will not be able to hide
A cruel reign is disordered and hidden in darkness, and while all shake with terror at the sudden explosions, not even he who caused all this disturbance escapes unharmed.
02:26
August 5, 2020
Beware of the corruption of the justice system
Seneca reminds us that prosecutors and judges might be corrupted, and that we have to take this into account when we act.
02:36
August 4, 2020
Do not support leaders who drag their office into the mud
Seneca issues a stern reminder to Nero about the responsibilities of government. It can all too easily be applied today.
02:31
August 3, 2020
War is cruelty on a massive scale
Seneca warns that the cruelty of people in charge of government can have massive consequences.
02:28
July 31, 2020
When you hurt others, you hurt yourself
Seneca reminds Nero, and us, that not doing the right thing is first and foremost injurious to ourselves.
02:36
July 30, 2020
Seneca and the Peter Parker principle
With great power comes great responsibility, as both Seneca and Spider-Man agree.
02:48
July 29, 2020
Let us err on the side of clemency
Seneca makes an epistemic argument to convince us that it is better to err on the side of clemency, rather than punishment.
02:42
July 28, 2020
Clemency helps the innocent and the virtuous
Seneca makes an argument in favor of a broad conception of clemency, not just on behalf of the guilty, but of the innocent and the virtuous.
02:53
July 27, 2020
Is Nero going to "forget" his character?
Seneca flatters Nero at the same time as he issues veiled threats to the new emperor, in case he steers from the right path.
02:30
July 24, 2020
Seneca offers himself as a mirror for Nero's soul
We begin the study of the controversial On Clemency, through which Seneca tried to steer Nero's course for the good of the Roman people.
03:03
July 23, 2020
Overcome your fear of death and you will be free and powerful
Epictetus and Seneca agree: our own death is the ultimate test of our character, and philosophy is a long journey to prepare us for it.
02:49
July 22, 2020
What is and is not up to us
'What then, if I fall ill?' You shall bear illness well. 'Who shall tend me?' God, and your friends. 'I shall lie on a hard bed.' But you can do it like a man.
02:51
July 21, 2020
Consider how much control you have, and what follows from that
When you think about it, it turns out that we have far less control over things and people than we think, and therefore far less blame.
02:45
July 20, 2020
You can get better immediately, it's up to you
Epictetus says that our moral improvement is not like the Olympic Games: when we fail, we can resume immediately, not having to wait four years.
02:44
July 17, 2020
If you are in Gyara, live as one who is in Gyara
Epictetus advises us to live the life we have, in the place we are, rather than indulge in regret for what we may have lost.
02:47
July 16, 2020
How to practice and what to practice
Epictetus gives us a very practical pointer about how to incorporate Stoic precepts in our lives.
02:35
July 15, 2020
Do not wish for figs in winter
There is a proper time for everything, including enjoying your loved ones. Keep it in mind, before they're gone.
02:48
July 14, 2020
Stoics have a duty to work toward social and political change
Epictetus tells us what happens when a person is truly free. Tyrants begin to tremble.
02:41
July 13, 2020
Why should we be good?
At Olympia you do not want anything else; you are content to have been crowned at Olympia. Does it seem to you so small and worthless a thing to be noble and good and happy?
02:36
July 10, 2020
Enjoy figs in the summer, don't wish for them in the winter
How can you wish at the same time to grow old and not to see the death of any that you love?
02:30
July 9, 2020
Practicing philosophy is like going to the doctor's office
Friends, the school of a philosopher is a hospital. When you leave, you should have suffered, not enjoyed yourself.
02:23
July 8, 2020
Focus on the deed, not the praise
‘He’s a clever young man and a fan of rhetoric.’ ‘How do you know?’ ‘He praises me.’ Oh, well, that proves it, of course.
02:37
July 7, 2020
Your roles in life
Let us play our roles in life well. Not acting lik a sheep, gently but at random; nor destructively, like a wild beast.
03:05
July 6, 2020
The ultimate locus of your freedom
Look, can you be forced to assent to what appears to you wrong?’ ‘No.’ ‘Or to dissent from the plain truth?’ ‘No.’ ‘Then you see you do have within you a share of freedom.’
02:38
July 3, 2020
Who are you, anyway?
My mind represents for me my medium – like wood to a carpenter, or leather to a shoemaker. The goal in my case is the correct use of impressions.
03:06
July 2, 2020
It's about deeds, not words
So you can talk the right talk about Stoicism. But do you also walk the right walk?
02:42
July 1, 2020
A philosophy needs to be digested properly, not just vomited
Those who have learnt precepts and nothing more are anxious to give them out at once, just as men with weak stomachs vomit food.
02:24
June 30, 2020
Reframing problems into training exercises
I have a bad neighbor – bad, that is, for himself. For me, though, he is good: he exercises my powers of fairness and sociability.
02:32
June 29, 2020
When the universe sends you a sparring partner
A boxer derives the greatest advantage from his sparring partner – and my accuser is my sparring partner. He trains me in patience, civility and even temper.
02:25
June 26, 2020
Don't make yourself a salve of others
For God’s sake, stop honoring externals, quit turning yourself into the tool of mere matter, or of people who can supply you or deny you those material things.
02:15
June 25, 2020
What is truly good or bad
‘Being healthy is good, being sick is bad.’ No, my friend: enjoying health in the right way is good; making bad use of your health is bad.
02:18
June 24, 2020
Examine your values carefully
When people say that the unjust person is better off because he has more money, what exactly is their system of values?
02:20
June 23, 2020
The character gap
Keep well out of the sun, then, so long as your principles are as pliant as wax.
02:16
June 22, 2020
The fine trappings of a horse
Are you proud of things for which you don't really deserve credit? Or for things that are not important? Reflect on this, and set your priorities straight.
02:23
June 19, 2020
Are you alone or lonely?
Epictetus reminds us to draw a distinction between our objective situation and the way we feel about it.
02:23
June 18, 2020
Ask your impressions for the right password
We should always examine our impressions and ask whether they pass the test: are they in according with reason?
02:36
June 17, 2020
How to deal with a difficult relative
'My brother ought not to have behaved so to me.' No, but it is his business to look to that; however he may behave, I will deal with him as I ought.
02:49
June 16, 2020
What is always within your power
If now is the time for fever, take your fever in the right way; if for thirst, thirst in the right way, if for hunger, hunger aright. Is it not in your power? Who will hinder you?
02:27
June 15, 2020
Philosophical journaling
Epictetus explains one of the most powerful techniques in the Stoic toolkit for a better and more meaningful life.
02:38
June 12, 2020
The problem with wealth is that it doesn't guarantee you a sound mind
You have vessels of gold, but your reason--judgements, assent, impulse, will--is of common clay.
02:28
June 11, 2020
That is tyranny, not government
Epictetus argues that rational creatures will always oppose tyrannical governments.
02:52
June 10, 2020
Argue less, practice more
Epictetus draws a distinction between philosophy pursued for its own sake and philosophy as the art of life.
02:30
June 9, 2020
What do you like to tend to?
Socrates liked to daily monitor his moral self-improvement. How can we do the same?
02:44
June 8, 2020
Contemplating your final activity
Epictetus asks us to think about what we'd like to be doing when death will overtake us. It's an interesting exercise in self-knowledge.
02:10
June 5, 2020
Facts don't come with judgments attached to them
What, after all, are sighing and crying, except opinions? What is ‘misfortune’? An opinion. And sectarian strife, dissension, blame and accusation, ranting and raving – they all are mere opinion.
02:55
June 4, 2020
The raw material of the good person
Epictetus reminds us that to become a better person we need to apply our reasoning faculty to arrive at better judgments.
02:38
June 3, 2020
We need to be human beings, not statues
Epictetus puts to rest the notion that Stoics are supposed to suppress their emotions.
02:34
June 2, 2020
The three disciplines of Epictetus
There are three areas of training in Stoic ethics: to desire the proper things, to act properly in the world, and to arrive at the best possible judgments.
02:59
June 1, 2020
Socrates and Alcibiades
Epictetus stresses the difference between physical and inner beauty.
02:32
May 29, 2020
Give yourself a break (from externals)
Seneca notices that people fear old age in part because they fear irrelevance. But no one is irrelevant so long as they keep striving to be better human beings.
02:41
May 28, 2020
Free yourself from the fickleness of others
People who seek external goods become the slaves of those who happen to have the power to grant such goods.
02:56
May 27, 2020
Pay attention to the ledger of your life
What sort of things are truly important in your life, and why? Should you be reconsidering your current priorities?
02:28
May 26, 2020
How to avoid a wretched life
People with misguided priorities live a wretched life, so let's get our priorities straight and aim for a serene existence instead.
02:35
May 25, 2020
On the futility of war
Seneca writes a poignant passage reminding us of the futile waste of human life that war is.
03:14
May 22, 2020
Past, present, and future
Seneca reminds us what is the proper Stoic attitude toward past, present, and future.
02:48
May 21, 2020
The immortality of philosophy
Honors, statues, and wealth, don't last much after one's death. Philosophy is forever.
02:45
May 20, 2020
Try some true friends instead
The philosophers of the past are your true friends: they give wisdom without asking for money, or imperiling your life.
02:53
May 19, 2020
Have a conversation with Socrates or Epicurus
Seneca reminds us of the span of philosophical inquiry, and of how delightful it is to engage with the greatest minds from across time and cultures.
02:53
May 18, 2020
Spend time in good company
Read the great minds of humanity, those that have insights on how to live a meaningful life.
03:00
May 15, 2020
On the treatment of humans and animals
Seneca criticizes the slaughter of people and animals for the sake of entertainment. Today, the suffering continues, in slaughterhouses.
02:57
May 14, 2020
How to properly go to the barber
Thought experiment: if you knew you were to die soon, what sort of things would you prioritize, and what let go of entirely?
02:39
May 13, 2020
The three periods of life
The mind that is untroubled and tranquil has the power to roam into all the parts of its life.
02:32
May 12, 2020
How to get to old age
Old age surprises people while their minds are still childish, and they come to it unprepared and unarmed, for they have made no provision for it.
02:42
May 11, 2020
Live in the here and now
The greatest hindrance to living is expectancy, which depends upon the morrow and wastes to-day.
02:40
May 8, 2020
Postponement is the greatest waste of life
Life will follow the path it started upon, and will neither reverse nor check its course; it will make no noise, it will not remind you of its swiftness.
02:36
May 7, 2020
Are you on a voyage, or just tossed about by the currents of life?
There is no reason for you to think that any man has lived long because he has grey hairs or wrinkles; he has not lived long — he has existed long.
02:49
May 6, 2020
Learning how to live, and how to die
It takes the whole of life to learn how to live, and — what will perhaps make you wonder more — it takes the whole of life to learn how to die.
02:28
May 5, 2020
Set aside time to better yourself
Are you not ashamed to set apart for wisdom only that time which cannot be devoted to any business?
02:38
May 1, 2020
Time to change your plans, right now
Examine how you spend your time, decide how to improve, and don't wait until tomorrow to chance.
02:47
April 30, 2020
Time vs money
We are very careful with the management of our money, but far less so with that of our most precious commodity: time.
02:21
April 29, 2020
Much of your life is not up to you
The part of life we really live is small. For all the rest of existence is not life, but merely time.
02:16
April 28, 2020
Life is long enough
It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it.
02:35
April 27, 2020
On the shortness of life
Is life too short? Depends on what you do with it.
02:44
April 24, 2020
We ought to take care of everyone
To do philosophy means to reason and act correctly toward others.
02:34
April 23, 2020
The problem with luxury
While wealth is a preferred indifferent, luxury is more problematic, from a Stoic perspective.
02:31
April 22, 2020
The importance of experience and self-control
Musonius Rufus says that the combination of experience and self-control allow us to do what is right by others and ourselves.
02:29
April 21, 2020
Think about the long term consequences of your actions
Musonius Rufus contrasts the short duration of a shameful pleasure with the lingering regret that will follow.
02:26
April 20, 2020
The philosophy school is like the doctor's office
The philosopher’s school is a doctor’s office. You must leave not pleased, but pained, because you do not come in healthy.
02:33
April 17, 2020
You made the only mistake you could possibly make
A rare glimpse into the life of young Epictetus, when he gets criticized by his teacher, Musonius Rufus.
02:40
April 16, 2020
What we should concern ourselves with
Musonius Rufus clearly states how to implement the dichotomy of control in our lives.
02:44
April 15, 2020
How to save $1000 by challenging impressions.
Musonius Rufus reminds us that our most precious faculty is our ability to challenge impressions
02:47
April 14, 2020
Patterning ourselves after Zeus
Musonius Rufus is confronted by a critic about what it means to live according to Zeus, or Nature.
03:00
April 13, 2020
Don't try to reason with those who can't hear
Words of advice and warning administered when a person’s emotions are at their height and boiling over, accomplish little or nothing.
02:37
April 10, 2020
Take care of your mind just like you do of your body
In order to protect ourselves we must live like doctors and be continually treating ourselves with reason.
02:24
April 9, 2020
Practice what you preach
Don’t expect to tell others what they should do when they know that you do what you shouldn’t.
02:21
April 8, 2020
On being useful to others
It is not proper for one to die who is helpful to many while he is alive, unless by dying he is helpful to more.
02:30
April 7, 2020
Make your last choice while you still can
Choose to die well while you can; wait too long, and it might become impossible to do so.
02:41
April 6, 2020
Shameful speech undermines your character
If we speak badly, we think badly, and we are more likely to act badly.
02:25
April 3, 2020
Pain vs pleasure
Musonius Rufus reminds us to be on guard concerning the effects that both pain and pleasure may have on our character.
02:43
April 2, 2020
The importance of self-control
Self-control, often referred to as the fourth cardinal virtue of temperance, is crucial to Stoicism and other philosophies of life.
02:49
April 1, 2020
Criticizing tyrants is not enough
Musonius Rufus reminds us that we might have the same bad inclinations as other people, so we should start working on ourselves first.
02:44
March 31, 2020
Live in the here and now
Musonius Rufus reminds us that we can, and should, only live in the present.
02:28
March 30, 2020
The interplay between nature and wisdom
Cicero deploys a beautiful metaphor to encapsulate the Stoic theory of moral developmental psychology.
02:55
March 27, 2020
What wisdom is for
Wisdom is what allows us to use everything well. Things like money or education have no intrinsic value, they become valuable if we use them correctly.
02:40
March 26, 2020
Live according to nature
Cicero provides three interpretations of the famous Stoic motto, live according to nature.
03:02
March 25, 2020
The virtues of sound reasoning and scientific understanding
The Stoics adopted four ethical virtues, but also two epistemic ones: good reasoning and scientific understanding.
03:18
March 24, 2020
On friendship
Friendship is intrinsically choice-worthy, going beyond just instrumental value.
02:32
March 23, 2020
Our social duties
Cicero explains how the wise person is supposed to be involved in society, politics, and family.
03:16
March 20, 2020
On private property
The Stoic take on private property is that it isn't really property: it's on temporary loan from the universe.
02:37
March 19, 2020
Sociability, not pleasure
Cicero proposes a simple argument for why sociability, not pleasure, is the ultimate human desire.
02:23
March 17, 2020
Expanding our circle of concerns
We learn the rudiments of ethics within our family. But we cannot stop there.
03:18
March 16, 2020
On suicide
Cicero explains what criterion the Stoic uses to decide whether to walk through the open door.
03:02
March 13, 2020
On fame: Chrysippus agrees with Diogenes
Despite the fact that Stoics and Cynics treated externals differently, apparently both Chrysippus and Diogenes thought fame not worth stretching a finger for.
02:33
March 12, 2020
Why some indifferents are preferred
Cicero tells us that some indifferents are preferred for their own sake, some for the results they bring, some for both reasons.
03:17
March 11, 2020
Stoicism, Cynicism, and Aristotelianism
Stoicism occupies a logical space between the kin philosophies of Cynicism and Aristotelianism.
03:41
March 10, 2020
The drowning man metaphor
Virtue is all or nothing, and yet we can make progress toward it. How does this Stoic paradox work?
02:45
March 9, 2020
More on Aristotelians vs Stoics
Cicero explains how Aristotelians and Stoics treat externals, such as health, wealth, and so on.
03:34
March 6, 2020
On pain and mind
Cicero reminds us that how we experience pain -- both physical and emotional -- in part depends on how we mentally approach the experience.
02:37
March 5, 2020
Aristotelianism vs Stoicism
Aristotelianism and Stoicism differ in their conceptions of eudaimonia, the kind of life we should pursue. In a sense, they are both right.
03:10
March 4, 2020
Intentions vs consequences
Unlike much modern thinking in moral philosophy, Stoicism is about intentions. Which doesn't mean Stoics don't care about consequences.
03:32
March 3, 2020
Living according to nature
Cicero reminds us of the quintessential Stoic motto: we should live in accordance with nature. It's a crucial concept, spanning the arc of ancient Stoicism, from Zeno of Citium to Marcus Aurelius.
02:42
March 2, 2020
Why a good life is a moral life
Cicero articulates a Stoic syllogism aiming at demonstrating that the good life is a moral life. We look at whether the syllogism is valid and sound.
03:24
February 28, 2020
The chief good is the moral good
The wise person is happy because she is in complete control of the chief good in life: the moral good. Everything else is a preferred or dispreferred (moral) indifferent.
02:46
February 27, 2020
The metaphor of the archer
Cicero explains the notions of preferred indifferents and of the dichotomy of control by means of one of the most famous metaphors in Stoic literature: a discussion what is and is not up to an archer attempting to hit a target.
03:15
February 25, 2020
The mixed roots of virtue
According to Stoic moral developmental psychology we begin life as self centered organisms, whose prosocial behavior develops initially by instinct, and then proceeds further with the aid of reason.
02:53
February 25, 2020
Things that have value outside of virtue
Things like health and wealth are choiceworthy. But what gives them value is, specifically, that they are the raw materials through which we exercise our chief good: virtue.
02:55
February 24, 2020
Our natural delight in the use of reason
Cicero explains that human beings are naturally drawn to the use of reason, beginning when they are children. He also talks about the Stoic concept of katalepsis, the kind of impression so strong that it is undeniable.
03:07
February 20, 2020
The root of virtue: self love
Cicero has Cato the Younger explain a fundamental concept of Stoic developmental psychology: how virtue is rooted in innate self love, and how we do things that are good for us regardless of pleasure and pain.
03:11
February 19, 2020
The crucial importance of technical words
Cicero explains why philosophy needs a technical vocabulary, and we look at the sort of issues this may cause when talking to people who are unfamiliar with such vocabulary.
02:59
February 18, 2020
Virtue vs pleasure
At the onset of book III of Cicero's De Finibus, Cato the Younger explain the difference between the Epicurean and Stoic positions on the respective values of pleasure and virtue.
03:00
February 17, 2020
Teach or endure
People exist for the sake of one another. Teach them then or bear with them.
02:45
February 14, 2020