Choose a Cato, Seneca told Lucilius, “choose a master whose life, conversation, and soul-expressing face” you can hold up as an example to regulate your actions. Many of history’s greatest figures did in fact choose Cato. He was George Washington’s hero. On the front page of the diary where Ben Franklin tracked his progress of his famous thirteen virtues self-improvement program, he wrote down his motto—lines from Joseph Addison’s Cato. Patrick Henry dared King George to give him liberty or death—lines from Cato. Nathan Hale regretted that he had but one life to lose for his country—lines from Cato. And the old proverbial expression used to make excuses: “What do you expect of us? We can’t all be Catos.”
Cato didn’t write any books. He never taught classes. He never gave interviews. He liked to say that he only spoke when he was certain that what he’d say wasn’t better left unsaid. You won’t find many statues of him in Rome. Books about him are few and far between.
Yet his example inspired plenty. It continues today—teaching people he never met. It was Cato’s character, his self-discipline, his heroic defense of the Republic, his bold and brave example—that’s made him one of the most towering figures from his time to ours. That’s what Seneca and Washington and Franklin and Henry and Hale were emulating: not what Cato said, but what he did.
Right now, you are your kids’ Cato. They are holding you up as their example. They are regulating their actions after yours. They may rarely listen to what you say, but they are always listening to what you do.
Be a towering example. Be a Cato.