Stoic Week Day Four: Virtue

Welcome to Day Four of Stoic Week.

ThursdayWelcome to Day Four of Stoic Week.

Please read today’s chapter online or download the the handbook and read it offline.

Now take a moment to consider today’s morning text for reflection and post your thoughts or questions about this to our discussion group.

If you find anything in human life better than justice, truthfulness, self-control, courage… turn to it with all your heart and enjoy the supreme good that you have found… but if you find all other things to be trivial and valueless in comparison with virtue give no room to anything else, since once you turn towards that and divert from your proper path, you will no longer be able without inner conflict to give the highest honour to that which is properly good. It is not right to set up as a rival to the rational and social good [virtue] anything alien its nature, such as the praise of the many or positions of power, wealth or enjoyment of pleasures. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 3.6

Stoic Week Day Three: Mindfulness

Welcome to Day Three of Stoic Week

WednesdayWelcome to Day Three of Stoic Week.

Please read today’s chapter online or download the the handbook and read it offline.

Now take a moment to consider today’s morning text for reflection and post your thoughts or questions about this to our discussion group.

People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills; and you too are especially inclined to feel this desire. But this is altogether un-philosophical, when it is possible for you to retreat into yourself at any time you want. There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind, especially if he has within himself the kind of thoughts that let him dip into them and so at once gain complete ease of mind; and by ease of mind, I mean nothing but having one’s own mind in good order. So constantly give yourself this retreat and renew yourself. You should have to hand concise and fundamental principles, which will be enough, as soon as you encounter them, to cleanse you from all distress and send you back without resentment at the activities to which you return. – Marcus Aurelius,Meditations, 1.3.1-3

Stoic Week Day Two: Control

Welcome to Day Two of Stoic Week

TuesdayWelcome to Day Two of Stoic Week.

Please read today’s chapter online or download the the handbook and read it offline.

Now take a moment to consider today’s morning text for reflection and post your thoughts or questions about this to our discussion group.

Early in the morning, when you are finding it hard to wake up, hold this thought in your mind: ‘I am getting up to do the work of a human being. Do I still resent it, if I am going out to do what I was born for and for which I was brought into the world? Or was I framed for this, to lie under the bedclothes and keep myself warm?’ ‘But this is more pleasant’. So were you born for pleasure: in general were you born for feeling or for affection? Don’t you see the plants, the little sparrows, the ants, the spiders, the bees doing their own work, and playing their part in making up an ordered world. And then are you unwilling to do the work of a human being? Won’t you run to do what is in line with your nature? – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.1

Interview: Thomas Jarrett LTC

Interview with Thomas Jarrett, author of Warrior Resilience Training, for Stoic Week.

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

I am a senior Military Behavioral Health Officer, former Green Beret and Albert Ellis Institute Fellow.  I utilized Stoicism, cognitive science and POW insights with U.S. Combat Soldiers in the first combat resiliency program, initially titled “Stoic Resilience Training,” later “Warrior Resilience & Thriving”, in the Iraq War in 2005-6, and 2008-2009. We trained thousands of Warriors in a standardized educational class, and cross-training Medics, therapists and interested chaplains. This pioneer pilot resiliency program contributed to current standardized programs.

Q: What does Stoicism means to you?

Stoicism is a historically proven, philosophical resiliency system, developed in the crucible of suffering. It is a premier method of stress-inoculation training and world approach. For me it was similar to finding the “right” key, to a crippling cipher. The inculcation and application of basic Stoic insights allows the cultivation of military-grade software or “mental armor”, which allows us (only when applied, not just having the insight) to navigate bravely this beautiful, yet potentially painful world. Not dissimilar to a Western Zen but much more virtue-focused.

Thomas JarrettQ: How do you currently makes use of Stoicism in your work?

As a senior Cognitive and Rational Emotive Behavior Fellow, I continually educate service members that our operating philosophies and appraisals directly determine our emotions and subsequent behavioral choices. Stoicism helps independent Soldiers, manage their own emotions and expectations, vs. being overly-controlling and or hyper-responsible.

Q: When and how did you first become interested in Stoicism?

My aunt had a small Random House Volume on Aurelius’ Meditations, and my mother had given me James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh as a child. Additionally, my father, an Airborne Ranger, often spoke in terms of virtue, sacrifice and character. My influences included Viktor Frankl, Admiral James Stockdale and Spartacus.

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

The idea that we are the arbiters of our reality, and that our internal compass or true north cannot be degraded by external events. The realization that we literally determine the meaning of external events is essential, and that Virtue is our loadstone. It is different than post-modern, virtue-less approaches or cultural relativism. Stoicism permits me to travel though this world, unimpeded.

Q: In what ways do you think Stoicism still matters today?

When we are long gone, some space Marine will be reviewing Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus, steeling her mind prior to combat operations. Focused on virtue, accepting the inevitability of his or her death, they will draw inspiration and resolve from those who preceded them. Stoicism taps what is excellent in humans.

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

Being fairly passionate, Stoicism has allowed me to validate what is useful in cognitive and existential therapies, without becoming intoxicated with diagnoses and disorders. Stoicism freed me from Eastern psychologies steeped in reincarnation and reiterated why I am proud to still be a child of Greece and Rome, and that my mind and rationality are essential to my well-being, vs. nuisances or to be stopped.

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

If we know why, we can endure any how.  – Nietzsche

 

It is not the thing itself, but view men take of it which disturbs them. -Epictetus

 

Some things are far worse than death. – My father

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

Actually read the classics, including the best translations with commentaries. Join a reputable Stoic discussion Group like Stoic Forum, but avoid those that are egg-headed or contentious (Philosophy disease). Begin with Seneca’s Moral Essays and other sources who had access to original Stoic works. Consider A.A. Long and Hadot’s commentaries. Examine who else call themselves Stoics, you will be impressed.

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

Unlike scripture, or revealed religions, real Stoics ask you to manage your own opinions and evaluate the efficacy of the system in THIS life. You will never find a Stoic expert, who castigates you for not agreeing with their doctrine. Avoid those of strong opinion who have never practiced Stoicism.


You can watch a video about the Warrior Resilience Training on YouTube:

 

Stoic Week Day One: Life

Welcome to Day One of Stoic Week.

MondayWelcome to Day One of Stoic Week.

By now, you should already have completed the online questionnaire, introduced yourself to either our Facebook or Google community, and read the introductory chapters, in preparation for the week ahead.

Please read today’s chapter online or download the the handbook and read it offline.

Now take a moment to consider today’s morning text for reflection and post your thoughts or questions about this to our discussion group.

From Maximus [I have learnt the importance of these things]: to be master of oneself and not carried this way and that; to be cheerful under all circumstances, including illness; a character with a harmonious blend of gentleness and dignity; readiness to tackle the task in hand without complaint; the confidence everyone had that whatever he said he meant and whatever he did was not done with bad intent; never to be astonished or panic-stricken, and never to be hurried or to hang back or be at a loss or downcast or cringing or on the other hand angry or suspicious; to be ready to help or forgive, and to be truthful; to give the impression of someone whose character is naturally upright rather than having undergone correction; the fact that no-one could have thought that Maximus looked down on him, or could have presumed to suppose that he was better than Maximus; and to have great personal charm. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 1.14

Stoic Week Starts Tomorrow!

Stoic Week starts tomorrow, on Monday 17th October.

Stoic Week HandbookStoic Week 2016 begins tomorrow: Monday 17th October.

Please enrol now, if you haven’t done so already and read the introductory chapters, in preparation.

Start by introducing yourself to our Facebook or Google discussion groups.  Remember to complete the initial online questionnaires.

The handbook is already available to read on the web.  The downloadable versions will become available at 00:00 GMT.  These include a PDF version for printing, MOBI and AZW3 versions for Kindle, and EPUB for other e-readers.

There are also French and German translations available on the download page this year.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • What is Stoicism?
  • Stoic Week: Your Daily Routine
  • The Stoic Self-Monitoring Record
  • Monday: Life
  • Tuesday: Control
  • Wednesday: Mindfulness
  • Thursday: Virtue
  • Friday: Relationships
  • Saturday: Resilience
  • Sunday: Nature
  • After Stoic Week
  • Appendix: Further Reading

Conclusion: The Philosophy of CBT

The concluding chapter from The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (2010)

Excerpt from The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (2010), copyright © Donald Robertson. All rights reserved.

Lead me, Zeus, and thou, O Destiny,
Lead me wherever your laws assign me.
I follow fearless, for even if I should become reluctant,
Wretched though I may be, I shall follow still.
Fate guides the willing, but drags the unwilling with it.

– The Hymn to Zeus, Cleanthes of Assos.

The Philosophy of CBTI hope to have shown that the origins of psychotherapy and self-help, especially of a cognitive orientation, can quite reasonably be traced to classical philosophical schools such as Stoicism. I think the reader will also perceive that the philosophical tradition contains a number of concepts, strategies, and techniques, which might expand the clinical armamentarium of modern psychotherapy, providing new means of facilitating cognitive, behavioural, and emotional improvement in today’s clients.

As discussed in the introduction to this book, the Socratic tradition may also offer a broader and, unsurprisingly, more philosophical perspective on the practice of psychotherapy, unconstrained by modern presuppositions about the nature of psychotherapy as a profession. Considering the bigger picture, the place of modern cognitive therapy within a philosophical tradition stretching back roughly 2,500 years, allows us to see modern therapeutic concepts, strategies, and techniques, as part of a philosophical “art of living”, rather than merely the tools of a “job.”

The enormous literary and philosophical value of classical texts, such as the writings of Seneca or Marcus Aurelius, add another dimension to the study of psychotherapy for those drawn to the beauty of thought and expression in ancient literature. These works have survived many centuries, and certain individuals in one generation after another have been drawn to them for both consolation and inspiration. The life stories of these philosophers too are often remarkable. Seneca? Epictetus? Marcus Aurelius? Our knowledge of their character and circumstances, and times in which they lived, undoubtedly adds something to our appreciation of their wisdom when it comes to coping with adversity in all its hues. These were intellectual heroes, veritable warriors of the psyche, who knew bereavement, torture, exile, infirmity, warfare, political intrigue, and betrayal, and who were responsible for the care of others facing similar circumstances. Vice Admiral Stockdale, the Vietnam veteran, is perhaps our closest modern equivalent. He described the ancient world of Epictetus as a dangerous “buzz saw” of adversity and misfortune, and he found himself against a similar metaphorical buzz saw in the dungeons of the Hanoi Hilton prison, where he almost gave his life to avoid betraying the incarcerated soldiers under his command.

I make no pretence to be a classical scholar myself, just one who happens to be well-positioned to comment on the overlap between the two disciplines of classical scholarship and modern psychotherapy. However, I hope to have been able to provide a little more scaffolding within which others may erect a more comprehensive and refined account of modern psychotherapy within the Socratic tradition, inspired by Stoicism and other ancient therapeutic approaches. My grasp of ancient languages is quite limited but where necessary I have modified the existing translations, or produced hybrids of them, which seemed to me to better convey their technical meaning to modern readers, especially psychotherapists. Where possible, I’ve tried to check my translations with others more adept in these matters. Undoubtedly, one of the greatest obstacles to the reception of ancient texts among modern professionals engaged in similar work is due to the language used in common translations, which are often quite anachronistic themselves. I would like to think that one day translations could be made of key texts, such as the Enchiridion, using the same terminology used by modern psychotherapists, where appropriate. Perhaps most crucially, I would suggest that the term “emotional disturbance” better and more accurately conveys the meaning of pathé to modern practitioners of psychotherapy than the conventional translation as “passion.” The false notion of the Stoic as a “cold fish”, someone “intellectualising” or “rationalising” things defensively, at the expense of feeling, has done more to deter modern readers than any other misconception. This could be redressed, perhaps, by emphasising the opposite view and formulating an explicit account of Stoicism, as previously discussed, which centres upon its theory of the ideal Sage as being animated by a philosophical love of existence; free from passion, in the sense of emotional disturbance, but nevertheless full of love, as Marcus Aurelius put it. The analogy with Spinoza’s “intellectual love of God”, or Nature, might perhaps act as a guide in this respect. Spinoza himself presents a system of philosophical therapeutics so similar to Stoicism that it is tempting to see him as their true modern heir in this respect.

To further assist the reader, I have provided the script of an exercise called the “View from Above” which can easily be read to groups of students, and which I hope provides some taste of the kind of mental exercise that Socrates or Epictetus might have approved of. We have used this script with hundreds of people over the years, and consistently found that they enjoyed the experience and appeared to obtain some benefit from it. We have also experimented with audio recordings of the same script, on CD or MP3, which clients appeared to find helpful. Some people find these exercises so appealing that they repeat them on a daily basis. Indeed, I have also attempted to provide a schematic reconstruction of the daily regime or routine of a Stoic philosopher, to try to help modern readers better envisage their use of the various exercises discussed. This cannot be a perfect reconstruction, but clear support for it can be found in the preceding chapters, and I hope that it will make the overall “art of living” clearer, as well as highlighting the kind of self-discipline apparently required to follow the Stoic path.

In conclusion, I hope that this work can be extended to form the basis of a more coherent appraisal and assimilation of classical philosophy within the field of modern psychotherapy. I intend –fate willing as the Stoics might say– to continue to publish my own research in this area. However, this initial effort will have served its purpose if it draws others to the subject and brings forth further contributions from other psychotherapists who see something of value in the philosophical literature. I have found the literature of classical philosophy to be of tremendous personal value, and have also drawn inspiration from it in teaching, supervision, and clinical psychotherapy. I am certain that others will benefit from it in similar ways and if this book inspires them to read Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, or other ancient philosophers, then I will be satisfied that it has achieved something indisputably worthwhile.

How would the ancient Stoics have dealt with hate speech?

By William Irvine.  Reproduced with permission from the original article on OUPblog.


Insults have lately been making headline news. Last year, the world witnessed an attack on the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Eleven people were killed, and another eleven were injured. The attackers felt that some of the cartoons the newspaper had published had insulted the prophet Mohammed, and they were willing to sacrifice their own lives to right that wrong.

In America, political pundits were astonished by the rise of Donald Trump. The rise was fueled in large part by his willingness to insult other Republican candidates, along with a wide array of ordinary citizens. Trump insulted women. He insulted war heroes. He insulted journalists. And this was just the beginning. The New York Times recently published a list of 258 people, places, and things he had insulted—on Twitter alone. There were also many verbal insults.

On America’s college campuses, insults made headlines of a different sort. Students complained that they were being bombarded by insults. As a result, they felt humiliated and even downtrodden.

I was initially puzzled by these last reports. Had college campuses—including places like Yale University—been invaded by louts, bullies, and bigots? Further investigation revealed that what instead had happened is that students—in many cases, with the encouragement of the university faculty and administration—had defined down what counted as an insult. They had, as a result, become hypersensitive to insults, meaning that just about anything could count as one. On one campus, for example, students were cautioned against referring to a mixed group of male and female students as “you guys.” The females in the group might feel left out, and as a result, their feelings might be hurt.

This last “insult” is an example of what have become known as microaggressions. They are such will-o’-the-wisp things that it takes training to spot them, and at many universities, there are people who are quite happy to provide that training. Once you start looking for microaggressions, though, you will find them everywhere, and as a result, you will end up feeling very insulted, which is what had happened on American college campuses.

At the same time as students were learning to spot microaggressions, they were being told that as individuals, there was very little they could do to defend themselves. What they had to do, when insulted, is to turn to the university administration for protection—or maybe even the campus police.

Double Herma of SenecaIf we could travel back in time and transport an ancient Stoic philosopher—someone like Epictetus or Seneca—back to the future, he would likely be astonished by efforts to sensitize students to insults. What these students need, he would assert, is to be desensitized! More precisely, they need to learn how to shrug off insults. Furthermore, telling students that they are helpless to deal with insults on their own only makes matters worse. Start thinking of yourself as a helpless victim, and you are likely to have a miserable existence.

The Stoics, after devoting considerable thought to how best to respond to insults, concluded that we would do well to become insult pacifists. When insulted, we should not insult back in return; we should instead carry on as if nothing had happened. It is, I have found, a very effective way to deal with many insults. On failing to provoke a rise in his target, an insulter is likely to feel foolish.

And if we feel that we simply must say something in response to an insult, the Stoics recommend that we engage in self-deprecating humor—that we insult ourselves even worse than the insulter did. I have experimented with this technique. A few years back, a colleague told me that as part of his research for a book he was writing, he was reading some articles I had written. I felt flattered. Then he lowered the boom: he explained that he was trying to decide whether he should characterize me as being evil or merely misguided.

There were many things I could have said at that moment, but I suspect that none of them would have been as effective as what I did say: “Why can’t you characterize me as being both evil and misguided?” It turned out to be a singularly effective reply. If I remember correctly, his only response was to complain that I need to take things more seriously—meaning, I guess, that when insulted, I need to let my feelings be hurt. By turning an insult into a joke, we prevent the insult from taking root in our psyche, where it will cause us to experience needless anguish.

What about hate speech, though? Should we remain silent in the face of a racist insult? It depends on the situation. But the one thing we should not do is take the insult personally. We should instead dismiss hate speech, in much the same way as we should dismiss the barking of an angry dog. We should keep in mind that the dog, not being fully rational, cannot help itself. The Stoics would add that if we let ourselves get angered or upset by a barking dog, we have only ourselves to blame.

The Stoics lived long ago and in a very different world than the one we inhabit. But because human nature has changed little in the last two millennia, their advice regarding insults remains as useful as ever. Has someone insulted you? If you can bring yourself to shrug it off, you will simultaneously reduce the harm it does you and deprive the insulter of the pleasure he might have taken in hurting your feelings. It is a win-win strategy.

Interview: Ryan Holiday

Interview with Ryan Holiday for Stoic Week.

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

It’s funny, introducing myself is probably my least favorite thing to do. I’ve always been an introvert and so one of the reasons I’ve always liked writing is that I don’t have to do that very often—I just say what I think or know and people take it or leave. Usually at parties, I introduce myself as “My name is Ryan and I am a writer,” and since most people assume writers are basically starving artist, that usually wraps up that part of the conversation and then we can talk about normal things and not work. The slightly longer answer is that I am an author who has written five books, three about practical philosophy and two about marketing and media. The latter due came out of my career as the director of marketing for American Apparel and my work with a number of other authors and public figures. My books on philosophy, The Obstacle is the Way, Ego is the Enemy and now, The Daily Stoic came out of my love of philosophy and history. They are filled with stories and advice for people who are trying to achieve things, solve problems and find their version of the good life.

Q: How do you currently makes use of Stoicism in your work?

I say that my books are books that feature stoicism as opposed to being works of Stoicism. I think it’s incredibly hard to add something new to the canon of ancient philosophy as a modern person. There is room to translate, extrapolate and illustrate—and that’s what I did in The Obstacle is the Way I took a single stoic exercise from Marcus Aurelius and built a book of inspiring historical stories around it. As a executive and an entrepreneur, Stoicism is also a part of my life. Something goes wrong—how do I respond? Stoicism is there. I have to make an ethical decision, I want to try to think about the Stoic definition of virtue. If I’m experiencing success—material or otherwise—well, what do the Stoics say about how to handle that. None of that is to say that I am perfect in my application (in writing or in life) but I try and I think I’m getting better the longer I do it.

Q: When and how did you first become interested in Stoicism?

I was 19 years old and I attended a conference with the radio and television host Dr. Drew Pinsky. I asked him for a book recommendation and he put me onto the Stoics. To say that recommendation changed my life does not go far enough. It has in fact directed the entire course of my life. Marcus Aurelius was what Tyler Cowen calls a “quake book” for me. It shook everything I knew about the world. I’ve since turned to it hundreds of times—good times and bad times—and consulted it in my most difficult moments. After Marcus, I fell in love with Seneca and then Epictetus. Then I moved on to Pierre Hadot. I believe I found your work and the connection to CBT shortly after that. It’s been a ten year journey now, and I still feel like I am at the very beginning of it. The books don’t change, but like Marcus quoted from Heraclitus reading them is like stepping into a river. We are not the same and they are not same because of it.

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

There’s a line that I like in Hays’s translation of Marcus Aurelius that I think sums up Stoicism and that I use as a good summary of the idea. I can actually type it from memory, here:

Objective judgement, now at this very moment,
Unselfish action, now at this very moment,
Willing acceptance, now at this very moment, of all external events.
That is all you need.

To me that captures the three disciplines (perception, action, will) very nicely. It tells you how to see the world, how to act in the world, and how to come to terms with the world. It is indeed all one needs. You could spend a lifetime trying to just live that quote.

Q: In what ways do you think Stoicism still matters today?

Well, look we’re in a resurgence of Stoicism precisely because it does matter today. The reason that its found resonance with entrepreneurs and athletes alike is because not only are we in tumultuous times, but like the days of the Romans, many of us ‘stand alone in the universe.” What I mean is that with the decline of religion, even a decline in ideas like patriotism, leaves a vacuum. How should one life? What metric should they judge their decisions by? What matters? What doesn’t? These are questions that Stoicism helps answer. Or at least, they help me answer.

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

Like I said, Stoicism has helped me professionally and personally. I’m somewhat unique in that I also partly make my living studying and writing and speaking about this philosophy. I feel very lucky in that regard—because I would be doing it anyway. In any case, it is rare that a day goes by that I don’t think of some Stoic precept or idea.

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

A different times in my life I have loved different parts of Stoicism, but right now I really love this line from Marcus: “To accept without arrogance, to let it go with indifference.” We translated it in even pithier form in The Daily Stoic: “Receive without pride, let go without attachment.” To me it’s one of those perfect expressions like “And this too shall pass.” It’s a recipe for any and every situation. It makes you better in good times, stronger in bad times.

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

I usually tell them to start with the originals. Don’t read about Stoicism, read the Stoics. I think Marcus Aurelius is the most accessible, but Seneca is better for those who want more of a narrative and exposition. Epictetus is probably the hardest one to start with. One of the reasons we created The Daily Stoic was to give people a place to get a sampling of all the big three and then some of the others like Zeno and Cleanthes. You can also go to DailyStoic.com for a daily email of Stoic thinking and interviews. I’m a big fan of r/Stoicism on Reddit as well and post there pretty often because the discussions are great.

But the best way to start is the same way people have been starting with centuries: with one the text of one of the masters. Read it and think about it and read it again!

Obstacle is the WayQ: Do you have anything else that you wanted to mention while we have the chance?

Not really—I hope people like what I have to say. Not everyone understands or appreciates what I’ve tried to do with Stoicism but I do hope they can see that I am genuine in my interest (I don’t want to say passion) for Stoicism and I’ll talk about it with anyone, anywhere. I always try to explain that the vast majority of people are turned off to philosophy because of how its historically been taught, but if you sell them on what philosophy can do for them they are much more open to it. That’s what my writing is about and I’m going to bring Stoicism to as many people as I can that way!


Ryan Holiday is the author of three books on Stoicism: The Obstacle is the Way, Ego is the Enemy, and his latest The Daily Stoic.

Interview: William Ferraiolo

Interview with William Ferraiolo for Stoic Week

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

Some of my work might be worth reading, but I am an insignificant man who will soon pass on (as is true for all of us) and be forgotten. Most of the work I have published thus far can be found here.

I also have a book coming out in 2017. The title is Meditations on Self-Discipline and Failure: Stoic Exercise for Mental Fitness. That looks like a shameless plug, and it is, but I am far more interested in people reading my work and, hopefully, deriving some benefit from it, than I am in those people “getting to know me”. I don’t particularly matter. I am comfortable with that.

Q: How do you currently makes use of Stoicism in your work?

I am a philosophy professor, but I do not teach any courses explicitly devoted to Stoicism or any related subject matter. That is not up to me (a condition that I embrace with a Stoic/Nietzschean attitude of amor fati). The primary use of Stoicism in my work pertains to dealing with my colleagues, my students, and our administration. In the absence of a Stoic inclination, I might do things that would result in losing my job and getting arrested. Instead, I frequently remind myself that other persons, their words, and their behavior, are not entrusted to my control and, therefore, ought to remain matters of rationally cultivated indifference (though I do pay attention).

Q: When and how did you first become interested in Stoicism?

I never took any courses in graduate school that even mentioned Stoicism. This now strikes me as very odd. How does one obtain a Ph.D in philosophy without studying any of the Hellenistic schools – or any Buddhism for that matter? I became interested in Stoicism because I always had a bad temper, and I seem to have inherited an inclination to anxiety and depression from my father. When I was around 30 years old, and my knees and neck were destroyed from wrestling, football (American), and boxing, I knew that I could no longer release anxiety and the attendant aggression in combat and collision sports. A propitious encounter with the Enchiridion of Epictetus saved me from myself (so far, at least).

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

The centerpiece of Stoic counsel is learning to distinguish clearly between that which one can control and that which one cannot. The crucial correlate is emotional and psychological renunciation of any self-centered desires concerning that which lies beyond one’s control. How much needless frustration, anxiety, and despair issue from the obsession with events and conditions that lie beyond the direct control of the will? How much better off would we be if we just reallocated our intellectual energy to the small sphere of conditions over which we do have direct control (i.e. our will, our attitudes, our virtue, etc.)? I have enough flaws of my own to keep me busy. I will leave the external world to unfold as it may.

Q: In what ways do you think Stoicism still matters today?

I live in the United States, and it is, in my judgement, a fading empire in precipitous (and irreversible) decline. Indeed, much of the Western World may be on the same moribund downslope. When the nation and culture that you grew up thinking of as “yours” (simply because you were born into them) start to become unrecognizable, corrupt, and self-destructive… Stoicism really comes in handy. I will pay attention, and I will observe the coming collapse, but I will do my best to avoid becoming what I behold. When I find myself mourning the impending loss of “my” culture, I remind myself that it is “mine” only by happenstance, and that nothing is really “built to last” in any event.

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

I now spend much more time and intellectual energy trying to rectify my own character and my own behavior than I did before I discovered Stoicism. This leaves far less time and energy for carping and complaining about other people, the state of political or economic affairs, or the dearth of wisdom and virtue in the public sphere (though I still manage to do all of that a lot more than a good Stoic should).

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

Book Two of The Meditations starts with:

Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him, For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.

Do that in earnest, and the day passes in relative serenity.

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

Start with Epictetus. Nearly all of the most beneficial techniques in modern CBT and REBT can be found in his Discourses and Enchiridion. From there, move on to Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. After working through the other ancient sources, check out the modern resurgence of Stoicism (of which events like Stoic Week are a wonderful part) and the authors of contemporary works about the application of Stoic techniques. This stuff still works!

Meditations on Self-discipline and FailureQ: Do you have anything else that you wanted to mention while we have the chance?

When you find that the world is driving you batty, remember that the world is not yours to control, and try to understand that whatever it is that is troubling you can be rectified… by working on yourself. That task is more than enough for any of us. Leave the world be. It never asked for your help.


William Ferraiolo has recently written a book entitled Meditations on Self–Discipline and Failure, due out in 2017.