This article is part of the weekly Seneca series. New articles will be published every Thursday.
If you have ever spoken for a crowd (or even a few people), you know the feeling you get before you enter the stage. You feel nervous, and it probably shows. As Seneca states:
The steadiest speaker, when before the public, often breaks into a perspiration, as if he had wearied or over-heated himself; some tremble in the knees when they rise to speak; I know of some whose teeth chatter, whose tongues falter, whose lips quiver.
You probably don’t like it, but these things are natural. You can train yourself to become a better speaker and somewhat control your physical reactions to nervousness, but you cannot completely prevent them:
For by no wisdom can natural weaknesses of the body be removed. That which is implanted and inborn can be toned down by training, but not overcome.
The same is true for blushing. Seneca reminds us that even the mighty dictator Sulla and the great statesman Pompey tended to blush. So you shouldn’t worry about it.
Such a habit [blushing] is not due to mental weakness, but to the novelty of a situation (…) As I remarked, Wisdom can never remove this habit; for if she could rub out all our faults, she would be mistress of the universe. Whatever is assigned to us by the terms of our birth and the blend in our constitutions, will stick with us, no matter how hard or how long the soul may have tried to master itself.
Whether you break into perspiration before a speech or presentation, whether you start trembling from nerves, or your face is reddened by a blush, remember that it is all natural and nothing to worry about. You may attempt to control it, but you cannot completely overcome it. As a Stoic, guide in the right direction what you control, but accept as a fact what you don’t control. And don’t worry too much about a blush.
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