Interview: Greg Sadler

Interview with Greg Sadler about his interest in Stoicism.

Dr. Sadler will be one of the speakers at the Stoicon 2017 Stoicism Conference in Toronto, on October 14th.

Gregory Sadler


How would you introduce yourself and your work to our readers?

I’m a guy who keeps pretty busy! I’m the current editor of Stoicism Today, a member of Modern Stoicism, and the co-organizer of the MKE Stoic Fellowship. All of those are volunteer positions, so I earn my living with my company ReasonIO, engaging in philosophical counseling, online teaching, public speaking, tutorials, and consulting. Through the Institute for Priority Thinking, I do ethics training and executive coaching. I also produce YouTube videos on a variety of philosophical thinkers and texts. After about a decade as a professor, I left the academy to do philosophy in more public, practical, and professional settings, but I still keep professionally active, by publishing and presenting in my field.

How do you currently make use of Stoicism in your work?

At times quite openly, and at other times, smuggling it in! When I’m training corporate clients in, for example, understanding and dealing with anger, they’re much less interested in where the ideas came from, and much more interested in what’s effective and applicable. Stoicism figures heavily into my work as a philosophical counselor, and I incorporate Stoic philosophy into a considerable portion of my public speaking, and teaching. I should mention, though, that rather than being exclusively a Stoic, I’m what you call an “eclectic” (much like Cicero), or if you like, a “pluralist”. I integrate and draw upon multiple approaches – Stoic, Aristotelian, (later) Platonist, even dialectical and existentialist – within my work.

When and how did you first become interested in Stoicism?

A long ways back, but at first only superficially. I’d say that I was attracted to some Stoic ideas – without knowing where they came from – back in my high school and Army days. And then I encountered Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and some modern treatments of Stoic ideas as an undergraduate philosophy major. But it was really only in my graduate studies that I’d say I really began to understand and appreciate Stoic philosophy’s scope, depth, applicability, and systematic nature. That happened through getting my hands on a copy of Epictetus’ Discourses. I got a second major spur to seriously studying Stoicism, once I became a professor, with my ongoing work on treatments of anger, emotion, and rationality.

What’s the most important aspect of Stoicism to you?

That is a hard one for me to answer. Stoicism really is a systematic philosophy, and in my view – here a lot of people will say I’m dead wrong! – there isn’t just one single doctrine that is the most central. That said, if I had to pick one thing that I personally find most interesting about Stoicism, for me it would be a notion that we find most explicitly developed in Epictetus. It’s what he calls prohairesis, and what we often translate as “faculty of choice” or “moral purpose”, or (a bit misleadingly) “will”. This is the very core of the human person, and it is what we are working on – using itself to work on itself – when we are engaging in the kind of self-improvement Stoicism suggests we focus on.

In what ways do you think Stoicism still matters today?

The very number of people who are interested in Stoicism at present – and who stick with it over time – should tell us something! People from all walks of life and with all sorts of backgrounds are finding aspects of Stoic philosophy incredibly helpful or liberating when applied to their own lives. It’s one thing for academics and other professional practitioners to be interested in a philosophical approach, or even to apply it in their lives and talk about it with each other. It’s something entirely different when a philosophy from two millennia back has something to say to a much wider audience in our present-day culture.

How has Stoicism affected the way you live your life?

Not as much as it ought to have, or I’d have liked it to have! Oh – you were asking “How?”, not “How much?” I’d say that it has helped me place matters into perspective – with things that I do still sometimes let myself get quite affected by, more than I’d like. Getting angry, for instance: I do a lot of work on anger, and that was originally motivated by wanting to better understand and deal with my own feelings, responses, habits, and assumptions.

What’s one of your favourite Stoic quotations and why?

It’s one from Epictetus’ Enchiridion:

“When you are about to put your hand to some undertaking, remind yourself what sort of undertaking it is.”

We have a choice, but it is one that we have to make over and over again. What do we allow our desires and aversions to focus upon? For the Stoic, the way Epictetus puts it, it is keeping our prohairesis in accordance with nature. If we can stick with that – which isn’t easy, I’ll admit! – we’re going to be all right.

What advice would you give someone wanted to learn more about Stoicism?

I’m a big believer in going to the original sources. There is a lot of excellent “secondary” literature on Stoicism available, most of which has been written in the last three decades. I’ve also produced a number of videos on Stoic thought – and have plans to create hundreds more – but that’s more or less like secondary literature as well. There’s nothing like actually reading the “big three” – Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius – and seeing for oneself what they taught and thought firsthand. You could add what we have of Musonius Rufus and Hierocles, and the very informative presentations of Stoic thought by Diogenes Laertes and Cicero.

Do you have anything else that you wanted to mention while we have the chance?

Indeed I do! I think it’s quite astounding how quickly modern Stoicism has developed into a worldwide community of practice, connected up with each other in large part through the internet. It’s truly inspiring just to witness how many people have found Stoic philosophy to be useful to incorporate within their own lives. I’m also very pleased to to get to play my small part in the larger mission of the Modern Stoicism organization. I think there’s great things ahead for decades to come, and I’m looking forward to seeing what shape those take.


Gregory Sadler is the Editor of Stoicism Today and the president of ReasonIO. His popular philosophy-focused YouTube channels contain nearly 100 video lectures on Stoic philosophy

An Interview with Michael Connell about Stoic Comedy

An Interview with Michael Connell about Stoic Comedy

by Donald Robertson and Michael Connell

0E4A2264

Donald Robertson recently interviewed the comedian Michael Connell in his SMRT 2016 site about Michael’s recent Stoic Comedy special, his practice of Stoicism, and his reflections upon his craft.

Q: How do you make use of Stoic philosophy in your comedy?

The Stoic Comedy special I just released was a bit of a passion project for me. I’d been doing stand up for a long time, discovered Stoicism and been delighted with how it had improved my life. Whenever I’m passionate about something I want to talk about it in my routine, but with Stoicism I found that hard at first.

Stand up is usually focused on the outside – cats are weird, mother in laws annoying – and all about getting emotional. Stoicism is so focused on being rational and not being lead astray by emotions that I couldn’t find the jokes at first. Eventually though I figured out the comedy was in my irrationality. I’m a long way from being a Sage and find myself acting unstoically all the time, and by looking inward (as Stoicism teaches) and laughing at my foolishness I found the funny. In the special I make fun of people for getting upset when the trains are late, but if I’m honest those “people” were me.

Outside of my material I use Stoic philosophy in my comedy career all the time. The Stoic approach of looking for solutions from within yourself, has been a huge help in dealing with the tough crowds and fickle gatekeepers of the comedy business. Stoicism helps me focus on what’s important – being a better comedian and improving my act – and ignore the rest. If I’d discovered it sooner I may have saved me years trying to win over industry figures I was never going to win over.

Q: How did you first become interested in Stoicism?

Comedy is such a competitive field that I’m always looking for ways to improve myself. I heard somewhere that Stoicism was a useful philosophy that could make you more effective at business (I think it might’ve been in a blog post by Tim Ferriss), and picked up a copy of William Irvine’s A Guide to the Good life.

Reading the book I was surprised at how familiar many of the ideas were; learning to do stand up I was taught to focus on what I could control, hardships made me a better performer, etc. What I’d never considered though was that these principles that I’d been using in my art could be made into an entire philosophical system and applied to my life.

Q: What’s your favourite Stoic saying or idea, and why?

“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live” – Marcus Aurelius

In my life I’ve often played it safe, I was looking for security. I thought if I just did all the right things one day I’d find myself in a perfect position from where could do all the things I wanted to, or knew I should, do. I wanted to be secure because, ultimately, I was afraid of death. For example I was afraid of starting a business because I might lose money, and if I lost money I wouldn’t be able to buy food, and if I couldn’t buy food I’d starve and die. No, better to avoid all that and play it safe. What I’ve learnt though (partly through studying Stoicism) is that you can never really achieve security; there is no permanence in an impermanent world. Death is an inevitable part of live and will come one day no matter how much little risk I expose myself to. The “safe option” is actually not the safe option, it just stops you from fully engaging with the ever changing universe (which is really the only security you can have in this world). All this tends to be hard for me to remember though, so this quote is really useful.

It’s also fun to drop into conversations to make everything seem more dramatic.

Co-worker: “I want to go get a coffee.”

Me: “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”

Q: How has Stoicism affected the way you live your life?

How long have you got?

I love the “now what?” attitude that Stoicism has. When I was younger I used to get quite angry when things were unfair. After completing my university degree I was left owing quite a bit of student debt. I sat around thinking how unjust the world was that I, a brilliant artist, was saddled with this burden that stopped me from going out and enjoying life. Through reading Stoicism I came to see that complaining the situation was unfair didn’t help me solve it. I had this debt – now what?

I went out and got a job, moved into a very run down share house, and started living off rice and beans. I kept thinking about Epictetus’ advice (“Therefore when a difficulty falls upon you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you with a rough young man. For what purpose? you may say. Why, that you may become an Olympic conqueror.”) and Seneca’s habit of practicing poverty. The job was hard, the share house scary and the rice and beans pretty bland, but rather than feeling depressed I felt like I was slowly overcoming a mountain.

After a few years I managed to pay off the debt. I was very happy, not because I’d paid off the debt, but that I’d lived through this period of hardship without becoming depressed or angry (at least not for any significant amount of time). If I could live through gruel work, bad food and street crime (the share house was in a very rough area) I could face anything. By applying Stoicism I began to feel that no matter what the world throws at me I’m going to be OK.

Q: Chrysippus reputedly died laughing at one of his own jokes, about a donkey. Do you find much humour in the ancient Stoics’ sayings/writings?

Yes, I think the ancient Stoics are quite funny at times.

I often laugh at Epictetus because he’s so direct, he really doesn’t sugar coat any of his advice. He calls his students fools and blockheads (depending on your translation), and I imagine he’d be a pretty harsh teacher.

Marcus I think is funny when he’s making insights into human nature. He really didn’t seem to have a very high opinion of the people around him (“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness” etc.), and anyone reading today might get a few chuckles of recognition. Seeing that he was emperor and had to put up with all these people pestering him for something all the time, I’m sure a good sense of humour about the foibles of his fellow man must’ve been part of his Stoic toolbox.

I’m sure the ancient Stoics had a sense of humour. The story you mention about Chrysippus has always fascinated me. If I’m remembering this correctly he is supposed to have got a donkey drunk on wine then fed it figs while joking about it. I don’t know what was so funny about that (kind of sounds like animal cruelty to me), but I plan to find out in my next comedy festival show; “Michael Gets your Ass Drunk”.

Q: If he could time-travel to the present day, what do you think Marcus Aurelius would make of your act?

I think he’d be surprised to see his face on the t-shirt I’m wearing during the special, but he’d be immune to the flattery. He’d probably be a pretty tough audience; as I was telling the good jokes he’d be mentally preparing for the bad ones that were inevitably coming.

Q: What have you learned from audiences’ reactions to your Stoic routines?

That people have a hard time letting go of the idea that external events cause their emotions, rather than their interpretations of the events.

Whenever someone starts heckling or talking during one of my Stoic bits, nine times out of ten it’ll be this idea they’re taking issue with. It’s a bit wearying, I always feel like saying “Sir, philosophers have been pointing this out for over two thousand years now, I doubt you’ve got anything new to bring to the table…”

For a long time I was working on a routine about how people think others can shape their emotions; “He made me mad”, “she’s making me depressed”, etc. I never quite figured it out because I just can’t seem to find a funny way to explain that no one can make you feel anything unless they’ve got some sort of mind control powers. It seems people just don’t want to accept that truth.

I suspect this is partly because people don’t want to see the truth. It’s easier to say that someone else is making you feel bad, and therefore it’s up to them to change, than to go through the messy process of dealing with your own thoughts and emotions. This might be why Stoicism isn’t more of a mainstream philosophy, people don’t want to take full responsibility for their lives.

Having said that there are people who DO get it and they are wonderful. Some of the messages I’ve got through Facebook and YouTube are really wonderful, and I’m very glad that I could create something so many people have found useful.

 

Donald Robertson is a cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist, trainer, and author who specialises in the treatment of anxiety and the use of CBT and clinical hypnotherapy. He is the author of many articles on philosophy and psychotherapy in professional journals. Two of his more recent books include Teach Yourself Stoicism and the art of Happiness (2013) & Build your Resilience (2012). Read more about Donald’s work on his blog, The Philosophy of CBT.

Michael Connell is a comedian, and MC, and a longstanding student of Stoic philosophy. You can watch his new stand up special, and find out all about his comedy and biography, on his website: MichaelConnell.com.au

Release of O Estoicismo Hoje: Sabedoria Antiga para a Vida Moderna

Portuguesecoverforblog

‘O Estoicismo Hoje: Sabedoria Antiga para a Vida Moderna’ – Editato por Patrick Ussher e traduzio por Tais Paulilo Blauth.

Da ética estoica às emoções, de prefeitos estoicos e a atenção plena à filosofia prática, à criação dos filhos, à psicoterapia e às penitenciárias, de Star Trek e Sócrates a advogados estoicos, à literatura e ao viver estoico em geral, este livro apresenta uma coletânea abrangente de reflexões sobre como viver uma vida estoica hoje em dia. Você encontrará conselhos sobre como lidar com a adversidade, reflexões sobre a felicidade e a boa vida e depoimentos pessoais significativos de pessoas que colocam em prática o Estoicismo. Conhecerá também as ligações entre o Estoicismo e a psicoterapia, a meditação da atenção plena e as partes da cultura pop em que o Estoicismo surge inusitadamente. O livro será de interesse para acadêmicos e não acadêmicos, pois diz respeito às várias formas com que essa filosofia e modo de vida de 2300 anos permanece relevante para as preocupações e necessidades dos dias atuais.

Book is available for purchase here:

Apple Itunes: here.
Scribd: here.
Kobo: here.
Amazon Brazil: here.
Amazon US: here.

German Interview with Bea Pires-Stadler, translator of Stoizismus Heute

Interview with Bea Pires-Stadler, translator of Stoizismus Heute

Bea Pires-Stadler, the translator.
Bea Pires-Stadler, the translator.

The same interview in English was posted tomorrow.

Patrick: Erzähl uns ein wenig mehr über dich selbst, Bea.

Nach einer kurzen Zeit als Sekundarlehrerin in der Schweiz entschloss ich mich 1980, mein Hochschulstudium in Vancouver fortzusetzen. Dort verliebte ich mich in das Leben an der Westküste und genoss vor allem die Freizeit in der Natur. Ich ließ mich nieder, heiratete und erfreue mich nun an drei erwachsenen, unabhängigen Kindern, die momentan in New York, San Francisco und Vancouver leben.

Patrick: Wie war deine Erfahrung mit der Übersetzung dieses Buches? Wie war sie im Vergleich zu anderen Übersetzungsarbeiten?

Stoizismus heute stellte für mich eine gute Herausforderung dar. Einerseits hatte ich nie zuvor eine solch lange Übersetzung gemacht, andererseits wurden meine linguistischen Fähigkeiten durch die Komplexität der Materie und die verschiedenen Schreibstile der Mitwirkenden auf die Probe gestellt. In Bezug auf die im Buch verwendeten philosophischen Begriffe war es oft schwierig, zwischen zwei ganz guten, möglichen Übersetzungen eines bestimmten Wortes oder Ausdrucks zu wählen. Dank dir, Patrick, musste ich nie lange auf Klärungen oder Rat warten. Ich möchte noch hinzufügen, dass ich die Beiträge in diesem Buch höchst interessant fand. Die beruflichen und persönlichen Erfahrungen und Erkenntnisse der Autoren faszinierten mich und motivierten mich täglich zur Weiterarbeit.

Patrick: Warst du mit dem Stoizismus schon vor der Übersetzung dieses Buches vertraut, und was fiel dir bezüglich der stoischen Philosophie während deiner Arbeit auf?

Ich war mit dem Begriff des Stoizismus vertraut und hatte schon über Stoiker gelesen, aber die Philosophie selbst kannte ich nicht wirklich. Bei der Übersetzung des Buches fiel mir auf, dass es zwischen den stoischen Praktiken und denen, die ich aus der Literatur über die Achtsamkeitsmeditation und die kontemplative Meditation kenne, Ähnlichkeiten gibt. Ich wurde beispielsweise an religiöse Lehren bezüglich der Prüfung des eigenen Gewissens erinnert, Lehren, die von den in diesem Buch beschriebenen stoischen Praktiken nicht so ganz verschieden sind.

Patrick: Gibt es Teile des Stoizismus, die du jetzt in Betracht ziehen würdest, in dein eigenes Leben zu integrieren?

Ich praktiziere seit gut zwei Jahren „Centering Prayer“ (Gebet der Stille), eine moderne Form des kontemplativen Gebets, und habe festgestellt, dass es mir hilft, mich in meine Mitte zu begeben und einen Zustand der inneren Ruhe, den ja auch die Stoiker anstrebten, zu erlangen. Ich scheine damit ähnliche Ergebnisse zu erzielen. Insbesondere genoss ich im vergangenen Frühjahr vier Tage in einer Einsiedelei der Camaldoleser Mönche hoch über der pazifischen Küste von Kalifornien. Es gibt keinen besseren Ort, um geistige Ruhe zu finden!

Patrick: Was sind deine wichtigsten Quellen der Inspiration für ein gutes Leben?

Meine wichtigsten Einflüsse sind die Schriften von 1) Pater Thomas Keating O.C.S.O., einem Trappistenmönch und Priester, der als einer der Architekten des „Zentrierenden Gebetes“ gilt, das 1975 aus der St. Josephs Abtei in Spencer, Massachusetts, hervorgegangen ist, und 2) Henri Nouwen, einem holländischen Priester, Professor und Schriftsteller, der durch die Werke von Thomas Merton, Vincent Van Gogh und Jean Vanier, alles Menschen, die ich ebenso zu bewundere, stark beeinflusst wurde. Schließlich glaube ich, dass ich auch von der Kunst und den Schriften meines verstorbenen Onkels, Pater Karl Stadler OSB (1921–2012), einem Benediktinermönch und Künstler vom Kloster Engelberg (Schweiz) beeinflusst wurde.

Beatrice Pires-Stadler ist Dozentin für Fremdsprachen und freiberufliche Übersetzerin (Deutsch/Englisch). Sie hat dreißig Jahre an einer kanadischen Universität gelehrt und lebt in Britisch Kolumbien, Kanada. Bea übersetzt besonders gern Bücher philosophischer/spiritueller Natur und Kinderbücher.

English Interview with Bea Pires-Stadler, translator of Stoizismus Heute

Interview with Bea Pires-Stadler, translator of Stoizismus Heute

Bea Pires-Stadler, the translator.
Bea Pires-Stadler, the translator.

The same interview in German will be posted tomorrow.

Patrick: Tell us a little bit more about yourself,

Bea. After a brief period as a high school teacher in Switzerland, I left Europe in 1980 to pursue advanced studies in British Columbia. There I fell in love with the west coast, enjoying the outdoors. I settled in the Lower Mainland, got married, and with my husband have three adult children who now live in New York, San Francisco, and Vancouver.

Patrick: How did you find translating the book? How was it compared to other translation work you have done?

Stoicism Today presented a good challenge to me. Firstly, I had never done such a long translation before, and secondly, the complexity of the subject matter and the various writing styles of the contributors put my skills to the test. With respect to the philosophical terms used in the book, it was often difficult to choose between two perfectly good translations of a given word or phrase. Thanks to you, Patrick, I never had to wait long for clarification or guidance. Let me add that I found the various writings in this collection most interesting. The professional and personal experiences and insights of the authors intrigued me and made translating the book most enjoyable.

Patrick: Were you familiar with Stoicism before translating the work and what particularly struck you about the philosophy whilst translating it?

I was familiar with the term and had read about Stoics before, but I was not really familiar with their philosophy. In translating the book, I realized that there are similarities between stoic practices and those I am familiar with from the literature on mindfulness and contemplative meditation. I was also reminded of religious teachings on the examination of one’s conscience, for example, teachings that are not all that different from the stoic practices mentioned in the book.

Patrick: Are there any parts of Stoicism which you would now think of incorporating into your own life?

I have been practicing Centering Prayer, a contemporary method of contemplative prayer, for over two years and find that it helps me center myself and get to that state of calm the Stoics strive for. I seem to achieve similar results to those brought about by stoic practices. I particularly enjoyed spending four days at a Camaldolese hermitage high above the Pacific coast of California last spring. There is no better place to achieve mental calm!

Patrick: What are your main sources of inspiration for leading a good life?

My main influences are the writings of 1) Father Thomas Keating O.C.S.O., a Trappist monk and priest known as one of the architects of Centering Prayer, which emerged from St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, in 1975, and 2) Henri Nouwen, a Dutch-born priest, professor and writer who in turn was heavily influenced by the works of Thomas Merton, Vincent van Gogh, and Jean Vanier, all people I equally admire.  Finally, I believe that I have also been influenced by the art and writings of my late uncle, Father Pater Karl Stadler OSB (1921–2012), a Benedictine monk and artist at Engelberg Abbey in Switzerland.

Beatrice Pires-Stadler is a language instructor and translator (German<>English) who taught for thirty years at a Canadian university.  She is multi-lingual, multi-cultural, and lives in British Columbia, Canada. She particularly enjoys translating books of a philosophical/spiritual nature and children’s books.

Jonathan Newhouse, Stoic CEO of Condé Nast

Jules Evans interviews Jonathan Newhouse CEO of Conde Nast, about his practice of Stoic philosophy….

As part of my continued fascination with how people use ancient philosophies in modern life, I went to interview Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Conde Nast International, which publishes the non-US editions of magazines like Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair, Glamour and House and Garden. How, I wondered, did Jonathan follow Stoic philosophy in such an image-focused industry? And how did it help him with the pressures of being born into one of the most affluent and successful families in America? Unlike the stars who adorn his magazine covers, Jonathan is a very private person, and this is the first time he’s talked about his love of Stoicism, but he was kind enough to share his thoughts. 

How did you get into Stoicism?

It was 1999. I ran into Alain de Botton in a restaurant. He was having dinner with a friend of mine. He said he was working on a book of philosophy, and mentioned Seneca, who I’d never read. I went out and brought Seneca’s Letters From a Stoic. And it just blew me away. I found it impeccably logical. That led me on to Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus.  I read just about everything I could. Now I usually take one of the Stoic books with me when I travel. I incorporated it into my thinking and it’s shaped the way I think and interact with the world in a very positive way.

How?

What struck me was the irrefutable logic of it. People devote a lot of time and emotional effort to things that are beyond their control – what other people do, how other people react to them, even the weather. And they set themselves up for pain, anxiety, disappointment and fear. The Stoics recognised that it was foolish, or counterproductive, to attach oneself to things that are beyond one’s control, when there are things within one’s control – one’s thoughts, attitudes and moral purpose.

I loved the idea that you could make your goal to live a life of moral purpose. I was very taken with the ethical and moral point-of-view of Stoicism. When you read the Stoics, you often come across the word ‘virtue’. They saw the goal of the wise person as to lead a virtuous life. Today, the word ‘virtue’ is almost never heard, except ironically. If you asked 100 people what their goal was in life, hardly any would say leading a virtuous life.

Can you give some practical examples of how you might use Stoic ideas?

Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic philosopher and emperor of Rome

I found I had a more satisfactory way of dealing with disappointment, opposition…For example, I had children, who are grown up now and in their twenties. Parents care a lot about their children and what they do, and it’s very easy to get upset when they don’t behave as you would wish them to. Stoicism makes you realise you can’t control people, not even your own children. It’s liberating. The essence of Stoicism is that you have to accept what you can’t control. I’d get upset or disappointed when things didn’t go my way or when someone didn’t do what I wanted, but I learnt to step back and say ‘what’s going on? Does it involve my moral purpose?’ If it does, then as a wise person you have a path to follow, which is to follow the path governed by reason and virtue. And if it doesn’t involve your moral attitude, then it’s probably not that important. Let me read you one of my favourite quotes from Marcus Aurelius:

They cannot admire you for intellect. Granted—but there are many other qualities of which you cannot say, “but that is not the way I am made”. So display those virtues which are wholly in your own power—integrity, dignity, hard work, self-denial, contentment, frugality, kindness, independence, simplicity, discretion, magnanimity. Do you not see how many virtues you can already display without any excuse of lack of talent or aptitude? And yet you are still content to lag behind.

What he’s saying is you can make your goal to live in a dignified way, a virtuous way based upon reason. It is within your power. How many people do that? Where people get screwed up is there are a lot of things that appear to be in our control – whether we achieve something we want to achieve, whether a relationship works out the way we want. The fact is we can influence them, but ultimately a lot of these things are beyond our control. Even our health.

But isn’t that a heresy in the world of business philosophy, where most people think success is all down to your own efforts. You seem to be saying that some of these things involve fortune and luck.

Fortune and luck play a huge part in everything. Stoicism doesn’t mean passivity – you can care and you can be passionate. Let’s say you’re a writer — your duty is to write the best you can. But it’s out of your control whether your book becomes a bestseller or not. Other people have to buy it, a publisher has to publicise it, maybe you have to get on a TV talk show. But nothing can prevent you from living according to the precepts of Stoicism.

Is it easier to be Stoic when you’re well off?

A lot of things are easier if you’re well-off, and probably a few things aren’t as easy. Marcus Aurelius was emperor of Rome, hugely powerful. And Epictetus was a slave. So I don’t think Stoicism is just a luxury for advantaged people. Any person can learn from it.

Marcus was emperor of Rome, which must have been an incredibly complex and stressful job. You also, in some ways, are at the top of an empire, a media empire, which must also be very complex. Does Stoicism help you in that?

Newhouse with Vogue execs at Milan Fashion Week

I don’t think it impacts how I run the business, to be honest. I don’t look at the business every day and think ‘what’s the Stoic way to do a certain thing’. What it does do is help me manage myself and my own feelings. There’s not very much that disturbs my equanimity. I can have a detachment and calmness in doing what I do. I don’t get offended if someone I do business with lets me down, I just recognise this is the way some people behave. It reminds me of a quote from Marcus Aurelius I was looking at this morning:

Whenever you are offended at someone’s lack of shame, you should immediately ask yourself, ‘is it possible for there to be no shameless people in the world?’ It’s not possible – do not ask for the impossible. This person is just one of the shameless inevitably existing in this world.

If someone is behaving in a rude way, step back and say ‘OK that’s their problem. What’s my responsibility? Mine is to follow the precepts of truth, justice, courage and self-control’. Nothing can prevent you from doing that. If you ask most people, do you think you can achieve your goal, people would say, maybe I will, maybe not. If your goal is to live according to reason and virtue, then that is always achievable. I’d never thought of that.

Did you grow up with a particular religion?

I’m from the US, from the New York area. I grew up as a reformed Jew, with the Judeo-Christian moral precepts that most people are exposed to. I was never a seeker after truth.  I didn’t join cults or experiment with philosophies or sects. I wasn’t particularly looking for some kind of answer.

To what extent is the world of media and fashion in tune with Stoic values?

Not in tune. I don’t think there’s any particular awareness of it. In fact, the zeitgeist has been moving away from Stoic virtues. For example, the Stoics thought humans have the capacity for reason as well as passions. They saw passions as the antithesis to reason and kind of the wrong path. But today we put a great value on emotions, and living your emotions and experiencing them and giving into them. The idea of applying a reasoned approach is not in line with today’s thinking.

And also, you could say that media has led to a culture of external display rather than the idea of inner virtue?

Digital has made possible an incredible explosion of narcissism. Through Facebook and Instagram, people are displaying everything about their personal lives. I like the fact that Stoicism is private. I’ve never felt an interest in proselytizing it. I do, however, sometimes talk to close friends about it. For example, about a year ago, a friend of mine in the US lost his wife in a shooting accident. He was devastated.  I sent him a book of Seneca about consolation. He thanked me for it.  I don’t know if it touched him. But occasionally, when I’ve come across someone who I thought would benefit, I’ve given him a book.

For example, I noticed you stood by John Galliano in that whole furore.

Well, in that case I felt he’d been suffering from severe alcoholism, which is an illness. And he was taking steps to recover. And the right thing to do when someone is sick is to have compassion and to support their recovery.

Going back to the idea of proselytizing – Marcus Aurelius also clearly thought you can’t change people so there was no point trying to do ‘Stoic outreach’. Do you think then that we can’t promote these ideas or values through the media?

Individuals should do what they want. If people feel strongly about it, they should write a book, or talk about it. I have no intention of fighting any battle to spread Stoicism. It’s out there – you can walk into a bookshop and buy Marcus Aurelius. A lot of ancient philosophies have something to offer. What’s happened today, which is a shame, is that when people have problems and suffering, their instinct is to go to a psychiatrist and get a pill. Some misfortunes require medication, but pills aren’t the answer to all our problems.

I do think we should teach a whole range of philosophies in schools. In the 16th or 17th centuries, every educated household had a copy of Seneca in their library. Now it would be less than 1% who’d have a copy. They’ve been neglected.

Have you ever met other people interested in Stoicism?

No, there’s no other person I could discuss this with, apart from Alain de Botton.

Elle MacPherson named her son Aurelius after the author of her favourite book, Aurelius’ Meditations.

You must have met so many people. None of them were into Stoicism? Tom Wolfe for example? Elle MacPherson?

I’ve sat next to Elle at dinner parties. I didn’t realise this was one of her intellectual interests!  For me, it’s a private thing.

That’s quite different from, say, Judaism, where there’s so much emphasis on community.

Well, Stoics don’t all meet in church and worship. The Stoics make mention of God, but the deity does not play a major role. It’s a way of thinking, a philosophy, and you don’t need anyone else to share it with. I’m happy if someone else is interested in it. I’ve occasionally talked to friends about it and they nod and say ‘that’s nice’, but I don’t have friends that I hang out with in a bar and talk about Stoicism.

Do you believe in God?

That’s an interesting question. [Pause]. I guess…is there a God that is looking at every single detail of every life in the universe, you know, if Johnny is praying to pass his biology exam, is God listening to that prayer? I don’t know. To me, the principles that are embodied in Stoicism are akin to God. I’m not sure if God exists, but I prefer to live my life as though He does.

The Stoics believed in a moral universe. Do you?

Well, they’d say it all comes down to reason. They saw their moral values as stemming from reason, which enables us to live in a peaceful and harmonious way.

But they also saw a link between reason and the universe.

Yes they did. You know…I haven’t worked it out. This sounds terrible, perhaps, but I love the idea of God. For me, this philosophy itself is  godlike –  almost like a Higher Power, something greater than my own power, which is puny.

And what about the afterlife?

Well, I think when you’re dead, it’s probably like before you’re born. There’s no consciousness, no pain, no nothing. It’s frightening, but it will happen to all of us, and I can accept it. That’s the way God or Nature made the world, and to protest against it or to feel anguish is foolish and irrational, so why indulge it? You know when you jump into a swimming pool, there’s a moment when you know you’re going to go from one state to another, and then it happens. I think death is something like that. Except you won’t be swimming afterwards. Anyway, Stoicism has made me less afraid of dying.

I left with the impression of a man with a quiet and deep integrity. Of course, I still wondered if the media could perhaps play a role in trying to shape more positive values in our culture, but Jonathan is not alone among Stoics in being wary of proselytizing. Still, occasionally some Stoic philosophy sneaks into one of his family’s magazines – like in 1955, when JD Salinger published Franny and Zooey in the New Yorker. In the story, Zooey scrawls some Epictetus quotes across her school’s blackboards. Good going Zooey.

This article was first published on Jules Evan’s website in October 2013, and is reprinted here with his kind permission. 

 

'Stoicism on the German GMX Radio Station'

Stoicism on the German GMX Radio Station

For those German Stoics out there, you might find this recent feature on GMX radio interesting. It includes an interview with Jules Evans.

Here is the link to Helene’s website, which contains the interview: Helene’s Website.