The Modern Stoicism Podcast Hits Episode 10!

Earlier this year, Modern Stoicism launched something new – at least for this organization – a podcast, in which the host and editor, Adam Piercey, interviews guests who have made contributions to modern practices and interpretations of that ancient philosophy. Listenership has been growing steadily, and the Modern Stoicism Podcast provides an excellent supplement to other media in which Stoicism gets discussed.

Today, we are happy to report that the podcast has hit an important milestone. We’re publishing the tenth episode here in Stoicism Today (as well as on all of the many platforms where the podcast can be found) in this very post. The title of this one is “Adam the Host Answers Questions about Podcasting and Practice!”

As editor of Stoicism Today and as a team member of Modern Stoicism, Ltd., I was one of the people interviewed in the first ten episodes, and I would like to not only congratulate Adam for bringing the podcast to this point, but also to sing his praises a bit. Podcasts are somewhat deceptive, as they sound almost effortless to the casual listener. Intros slide right into to thoughtful discussions of topics, going just the right amount of time before they finish up with an outro. That’s all due to hours and hours of recording and then laborious editing work. Schedules have to be aligned between host and guest, and that’s just a bit of the preparatory work that goes into each episode. So Adam has been generously devoting significant time, thought, and effort to this project, and for that the entire Modern Stoicism Team thanks him (and maybe you readers and listeners might want to do that as well).

Previous Episodes

If you missed them when they came out, or you’d like to listen to them again (or download them for later), here are the nine earlier episodes.

Episode 9: https://modernstoicismpodcast.buzzsprout.com/882808/5085545-tara-klippert-health-nutrition-and-stoicism

Episode 8: https://modernstoicismpodcast.buzzsprout.com/882808/4991060-kasey-pierce-comics-life-and-stoicism

Episode 7: https://modernstoicismpodcast.buzzsprout.com/882808/4891130-brittany-polat-oikeiosis-and-human-nature

Episode 6: https://modernstoicismpodcast.buzzsprout.com/882808/4788716-greg-sadler-modern-stoicism-stoicism-today-and-grassroots-movements

Episode 5: https://modernstoicismpodcast.buzzsprout.com/882808/4743602-chuck-chakrapani-and-musonius-rufus

Episode 4: https://modernstoicismpodcast.buzzsprout.com/882808/4613609-david-mcfadzean-and-the-manager-sage

Episode 3: https://modernstoicismpodcast.buzzsprout.com/882808/4512026-massimo-pigliucci-and-the-premeditation-of-adversity

Episode 2: https://modernstoicismpodcast.buzzsprout.com/882808/4422053-donald-robertson-marcus-aurelius-and-alexander-the-great

Episode 1: https://modernstoicismpodcast.buzzsprout.com/882808/4296158-our-podcast-an-introduction

A Special Give-Away To Commemorate the Occasion

We’re giving away 3 signed copies of books by Donald Robertson! We have 2 signed copies of The Meditations, and 1 signed copy of The Philosophy of CBT.

To enter into the giveaway, simply add a comment to this blog post with some feedback on what you think about the podcast so far (good or bad!) And we will randomly select 3 lucky winners! Details for the winners will be collected once they have been announced.

Another Interview With Adam

Even after talking with Adam before we recorded our episode, and during that interview, there are a lot of things I’d like to ask him about. I sent off a set of questions to him earlier this week, and here are his responses to those. I think you’ll find them interesting!

Why do you think it’s important for Modern Stoicism to have a podcast?

As an organization, Modern Stoicism already has so many avenues to connect with people, but after following the Stoicism Today blog I noticed that there were many contributors that were new to readers, and who shared some very interesting views on this practice. I think it’s interesting to people to try and dive into some of these topics further, in a different medium, where we can here directly from the authors – and a podcast can do that in a very unique way.

How did you get into Stoicism? Would you describe yourself as a Stoic? Why or why not?

Growing up there were always books on classical literature, philosophy, and history in my house, so I was aware of names like Socrates, Cicero, and Marcus Aurelius at a pretty young age. The stories of classical mythology and classical warfare rounded out my interests, and I even spent some time at Queen’s University studying Classical History. Alongside this, I had always struggled with finding a direction for myself which I could use to harness my mind and my emotions. Even before beginning my practice of Stoicism, I believed that the mind could be honed to act as a tool, or reinforced to act as a citadel for ourselves, so when I took the step to really investigate and research Stoicism, I found that it resonated with me in both my thoughts on the subject, and with new concepts that it brought to my attention.

What made you want to put in all the work, thought, and planning that goes into a podcast? And why this podcast in particular?

I believe that which you practice most regularly is that which you will embody. Couple that with my interest in the Zen practice called Beginner’s Mind, and it’s safe to say that I wanted to put my efforts into this podcast because I wanted to surround myself with like-minded individuals, and learn as much as I possibly could on the subject. I was also hoping that a podcast within the Modern Stoicism community might lend itself to generating some good discussion, and perhaps give an avenue for some new, and different views.

Podcast editing seems like it could be a never-ending task. There’s always something that could be tweaked or improved. How do you keep yourself on-point and get the episodes out on time? Any tips?

Tip #1: Choose to do a podcast on a topic that you love and enjoy being immersed in. It doesn’t matter if there are 1000 podcasts about Baseball, if you love it then it will show in your willingness to put in the effort, and your enthusiasm for the subject, when you record the podcast.

Tip #2: Pre-record as much as you possibly can. Many of the segments that go into the final edit of the podcast are pre-recorded and re-used for every episode. It saves time, saves effort, and if you’re stuck on an edit late at night one day, it’s great when you can just drop a bit of audio in and call it a day.

How have you found the process of doing the podcast so far? Any unexpected challenges that arose? Did Stoicism help with dealing with those?

The process of creating the podcast has been good so far, though I will say that I have had to learn quite a bit. But the guests have been very encouraging and willing to participate, and the feedback that we have gotten has been overwhelmingly positive.

In terms of unexpected challenges, I would say that I never thought it took as long as it does to edit and publish a single episode of the podcast. So, as the time drags on and I run through the audi files, clip the segments, and merge them together, I just keep on remembering that this is just how it is. It wouldn’t really help if I yelled at the computer, or got angry about the editing time – it is what it is, and that’s that.

What was your favorite moment or discussion from the podcast so far?

I think that my favorite discussion so far has been the episode with Brittany Polat on the subject of oikeiosis – or Stoic development. Brittany is incredibly knowledgeable on the subject, and brought a real honesty to the conversation about both her research and her feelings. In previous episodes, I had been quite hesitant in getting involved with the converdation too much, so this is the first episode where I really felt like I jumped in and added my own points. It was nerve-wracking, but I think that the outcome was a verry good podcast with some really interesting dialogue.

You’ve made it through ten episodes, which is quite an accomplishment. Looking back, what have you learned in that process?

First thing I have learned, is that I knew nothing about creating a podcast before I put together the first, introductory episode. Roman Mars, Helen Zaltzmann, and Avery Trufffleman make it sound so easy, but there is a lot of work that goes into each episode.

Second thing, is that you should try and fgure out what your voice in the podcast is going to be. I have bounced around a bit in some of the episodes, going from the voice of a novice to the voice of a veteran, from merely asking questions to generating discussion. If you can find the voice that you think best suits you, it makes it much easier to set the tone for your episodes as you record them.

From the people who haven’t yet come on to the podcast, who would you really like to get on it, and why that person or persons?

My first thought is Donna Zuckerberg, because although I haven’t read her book yet, “Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age”, it sounds intriguing and is a discussion I would love to give some traction to. Stoicism touches people from so many different walks of life, and I want to try and showcase that for us. It’s not simply one kind of person that can find a home here, we all can.

Stoicon-X Events For This Fall

International STOIC WEEK and the main STOICON conferences are coming up in just two months. Modern Stoicism as an organization puts on both of those for people interested in Stoic philosophy and practice worldwide. For the last several years, there have also been a number of smaller local events all over the world, organized by local Stoic groups and meetups. These have been called “Stoicon-X” events, by analogy to the larger TED and smaller, local TED-X conferences.

In past years Stoicon-X events have been put on in a variety of locations, including London, New York, San Leandro, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Newton, Toronto, Moscow, Madrid, Athens, Brisbane, and Bogota. Generally they have taken place in the weeks before and after the main Stoicon conference.

This year, Modern Stoicism and the Stoic Fellowship have devoted a lot of thought and planning to how best to promote and coordinate Stoicon-X events.

There are clear guidelines and helpful advice  for how to organize and put on a “Stoicon-X” event. Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, it would clearly go against the Stoic virtue of prudence to plan and hold events in-person for the Fall. So the expectation is that all Stoicon-X events, like the main Stoicon, will be online, virtual events this year.

This year, Modern Stoicism will also be expecting local Stoic communities who wish to host a Stoicon-X event to sign an agreement with Modern Stoicism. This will ensure that those events will be done for the public interest rather than for profit, and that certain standards will be met. We’re finalizing that agreement, and will be posting a link to it here once it is fully ready.

The Stoicon-X committee of the Stoic Fellowship has also put together an online spreadsheet with dates for planning events, so that they won’t be overlapping with each other. You can view that spreadsheet here. For more information about scheduling, you can contact Pete Fagella (chair of the Stoicon-X committee).

In order to provide readers and potential organizers some inspiration and encouragement, I’ve solicited some short contributions from people who successfully organized Stoicon-X events last year. Here they are:

Pete Fagella and Marc Deshaies – Stoicon-X New England

Our regional Stoa was still pretty new in 2018 when we decided to take the plunge and host our first Stoicon-X event. We had ten participants that first year. It was exciting hosting an event that was a little more formal than the regular monthly meetings we had been having. We charged $10 per person to cover the costs of renting a church basement and light refreshments. The 4 hour program included four speeches, lightning talks, discussion sessions and role-playing.

In 2019 our Stoicon-X event gained momentum: 23 people attended. We charged $15 in advance or $17 after a cutoff date. The main event lasted five hours. The program included five presentations, two sets of small group exercises, a book table where people shared brief reviews for others to  peruse, and we gave away four new books as door prizes. After a group shout outdoors to officially end the event, we shared a delicious informal potluck dinner. We look forward to an online event this Fall for 2020, and are happy to share more detailed planning tips with others if asked. 

Sharline Mohan – Stoicon-X Brisbane

I had the pleasure of organising the Stoicon-X event for the Brisbane Stoics in 2019. It ran for a full day at a local library event space and was kicked off with a pre-recorded talk by Greg Sadler followed by a live Q & A session. The rest of the day was filled with member talks and a workshop which was then concluded by a pre-recorded interview with Donald Robertson. Being an all day event it was important to include short coffee breaks and a longer lunch which allowed guests to absorb the information throughout the day but also connect with others in our stoa and socialise.

My advice from my experience is that the Stoic community at large is very giving and eager to contribute regardless of your place in it, adhering to your own schedule is important, and finally, I found that talks that require participation should be held at the beginning of the day and then end the day with more passive content. We had just under 30 people attend and whilst it was a big undertaking for a single person it was a truly enjoyable experience and great way to give back to my Stoa.

This year I have organised a committee to help organise an Australia-wide Stoicon-X held solely online and will run over 6th/ 7th/ 8th November. Within the month I should have the schedule for the Australian Stoicon-X outlining guests and topics.

Stanislav Naranovich – Stoicon-X Moscow

It was my first experience of organizing such an event, so it was quite disturbing. I sent requests to several major scholars, and as a result after lengthy correspondence the philosopher, Kirill Martynov and the historian of Stoicism, Polina Gadjikurbanova agreed to participate. The space was kindly provided by the bookstore Falanster.

The speakers made exciting presentations (one about modern Stoicism, the other about ancient), after which ensued lively debates with the audience. More than 50 people came — it was extremely unexpected to see such a large public! Mostly young people who are very interested in Stoic theory and practice and asked a lot of smart questions. It was a great pleasure to share experience with them, the sense of community is essential. The event lasted almost three hours, after which a group of participants went to the nearest pub. Here some photos.

Massimo Pigliucci – Stoicon-X New York

I organized Stoicon-X New York in 2019, and have a second edition planned for this year. Last year I was lucky enough to have both Don Robertson and Bill Irvine coming to town, so the three of us provided an evening featuring three talks and q&a with a live audience.  (You can check them out here:  https://youtu.be/LBMbv2SM4w8 // https://youtu.be/H9v1pCEQznM // https://youtu.be/x5ndjzaddsY).

This year Don will be back, and we will feature Brian Johnson, the author of The Role Ethics of Epictetus: Stoicism in Ordinary Life. But the event will, of course, be online. I plan on hosting it on the Zoom platform and recording the sessions for later publishing on Vimeo, here.

This is a highly rewarding experience, which does not need to be thought of as a major conference, with all the logistical nightmares that that implies. Even if you get a few people together for a couple of hours to talk about Stoicism you have accomplished something worthwhile. As Marcus Aurelius says, don’t wait for Plato’s Republic, do what little you can right now, because it matters. – Massimo

Andi Sciacca – Stoicon-X Milwaukee

Working to co-organize and co-facilitate the Stoicon-X MKE event held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 2019 was simple, rewarding, and efficient.  I am happy to share some of the things we did to keep the preparation process organized – and enjoyable.  First, since space (and cost of space rental) can pose an issue for any event host, we opted to work with our central library branch to utilize one of their conference rooms.  Not only was the large-capacity room we reserved free of charge, it was also located in a place of learning, easily accessible by public transportation, and well suited for a conference of our kind.  Next, thanks to the generous support of a donor from within the Modern Stoic community, we were able to offer coffee, breakfast items, and lunch to our guests. 

In order to make that happen, we partnered with two organizations that truly support community values and are excellent examples of working for the common good.  For the coffee, we worked with one of our favorite local roasters and coffee shops (Stone Creek Coffee) and reserved two Cambros of coffee.  The shop provided cups, creamer, sweetener, and napkins with the order – as most shops (including the national chains) will.  We added a few trays of mini-muffins and danishes from a big box store, along with a couple of flats of water, and breakfast was served.  For lunch, we partnered with a local restaurant (The Tandem) that is well-known for doing incredible things within the community (they even served as a World Central Kitchen site during the pandemic) – and we ordered some easy lunch items – wraps (vegan, veg, and meat-based), along with some large tray salads, and chips. 

We offered tickets to the Stoicon-X for free and used Eventbrite to manage reservations.  We also posted to MeetUp (with the Eventbrite link), shared posts across social media, and sent press releases to our local news outlets and other community organizations about one month in advance.  The event was completely sold out roughly two weeks prior to the date we selected.  In addition, we were able to create some pretty great event posters and flyers via Canva (if you’d like to reference our template, feel free) – and had those printed at a local printing press. 

We offered small honoraria to our speakers – and we were able to cover travel expenses for one speaker who came from two states away, and provide all of that content for the $1200 donation we received from that generous donor.  We checked people in on the morning of the event during the event using the Eventbrite roster, provided nametags (sticker-style) – and felt that everything went seamlessly – even with a fire alarm that went off right before lunch!  We recorded the sessions on our GoPro camera, and shared them to YouTube.  We emailed attendees with a follow-up survey – and got some excellent feedback for next time.  All in all, it was reasonably simple and well worth the time we spent on organization and set-up.  We look forward to the next event – whether virtual in 2020 or (hopefully) in person in 2021.

Podcast #8: Tara Klippert, Health, Nutrition, and Stoicism

In this episode, I talk to Tara Klippert about how stoicism can be applied to health and nutrition.

Tara is a digital marketing specialist, and a registered health and nutrition Counselor, and is the owner of Foods And Feels Wellness.

Check out Tara Klippert at:
website: www.foodsandfeels.com
Instagram: @foodsnfeels
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/foodsandfeels
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.ca/FoodsAndFeelsWellness
YouTube: Tara Klippert – Foods and feels wellness (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmtFheow-Ho2u9BbAUuAWLQ)

Stay tuned in this episode for a special announcement!

Leave a comment for us below about the podcast you’ve heard today!

Stoicism and Overcoming Anxiety by Ben Aldridge

Several years ago, I found myself in a dark place. I was struggling immensely with severe and debilitating anxiety and felt that I was losing control of my mind. I was having back-to-back panic attacks and honestly thought that I was dying. It was a truly terrifying experience and I felt overwhelmed with fear. My lack of education on mental health at the time meant that I didn’t understand what was happening to me. This made everything even more frightening. The fear of the unknown can often do this.

When I began experiencing very physical and unsettling symptoms within my body, I didn’t think for one minute that my mind was causing it. How could my racing heart, shaking hands and constant nausea be coming from my mind? I was convinced that it was a physical illness that I was facing. When I went to the doctor to get a better understanding of what was happening to me, I was genuinely surprised by my diagnosis – Generalised Anxiety Disorder and recurring panic attacks. All of this was coming from my mind. I didn’t realise how powerful my thoughts could be and the whole situation completely caught me off guard.

It took a while for me to process all of this and accept what was happening to me. I must admit that my ignorance and fear of being “mad” caused me to really resist this diagnosis at first. I was so worried about the stigma associated with mental health that I got distracted by my perception of the situation rather than the reality.

The doctor had suggested a few ways for me to address my anxiety (a CBT course and talk therapy) but I wanted to assess my options and educate myself on what was happening to me first. I could always decide to have therapy/CBT at a later date. To make an informed decision on how to deal with my anxiety, I began reading. This wasn’t just casual reading, this was a serious endeavour. I got so engrossed in figuring out what was happening to my mind that I became obsessed with reading as many books as possible. I was desperate for answers.

During this intensive period of research, I came across a whole host of incredibly useful ideas. I read about CBT, Buddhism, and the concept of a Growth Mindset. I read countless books on mental health, self-help, psychology and philosophy. I read biographies and autobiographies. Anything that might help me to understand my anxiety made it onto the list. I’ve never consumed so much content in my life. It was during all of this research that I came across Stoicism. This changed everything.

The ideas within Stoicism instantly resonated with me and I deeply connected with them. I loved reading about how this ancient philosophy could help me to live a better life. The pragmatic nature of the ideas appealed to me and the advice seemed to be timeless. There were so many concepts that I found useful from negative visualisation all the way to how we respond to events outside of our control (this was particularly helpful for my panicky mindset).

My reading choices started to change and more Stoic philosophy made its way onto my ever-growing reading list. As I began to further understand the philosophy, I started to appreciate how beneficial having a philosophy of life was. And this is really what Stoicism is all about – establishing a way to live a good life.

There was one particular Stoic concept that truly changed my life though. I credit this as dramatically altering my mindset and changing my relationship with anxiety in a very positive way. This was the concept of voluntary discomfort. The Stoics would deliberately expose themselves to adversity in order to prepare for future adversity. The Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus sums this up perfectly:

We will train both soul and body when we accustom ourselves to cold, heat, thirst, hunger, scarcity of food, hardness of bed, abstaining from pleasures, and enduring pains.

For some reason, I really connected with this idea. I knew that going to the gym would build physical strength but I hadn’t thought much about building a strong and resilient mind before. The diverse ways that the Stoics would do this inspired me and got me thinking about how I could create a training program for my mind.

I had lots of questions about this concept when I first encountered it. What ideas and situations could I use to build resilience? Will this help me to address my anxiety? Is this a good platform to test out all of the philosophy I had been reading about? This seems counterintuitive, will it work?  My mind was busy as I began to create a list of personal challenges that I could use to test out this idea of voluntary discomfort.

I eventually plucked up the courage to give it a try and began to use challenges as a way to “toughen myself up” just like the Stoics. The more I completed, the more confident I became. I could feel that my mind was changing and this was a good thing. When I stopped having panic attacks, I knew that there was value in this idea. I leant into it and went “all-in” on the Stoic concept of practising adversity.

Some of my challenges were taken directly from the Stoics, whereas others were lightly inspired by them. However, the majority of the challenges were based on personal ways for me to practise discomfort and leave my comfort zone. They started off small (as I was in a very anxious place to begin with) but over time progressed into bigger and bolder things. Here are a few examples:

To push my body, I ran my first marathon, climbed mountains and completed a long-distance walk. I challenged myself in the gym in a variety of different ways, completed triathlons and tried new and unfamiliar sports. Whilst fighting fatigue and physical hardships, I learned about my mind and how it responds to exhaustion. I got to experience a lot of physical discomfort with these challenges and got to practise working with this in a constructive way.

To push my mind, I exposed myself to the cold with ice-baths, cold showers and swimming in the British sea in winter. I slept in unusual places, faced a serious fear of needles by getting acupuncture, fasted and learned how to meditate. I also ate unusual food and queued for absolutely no purpose other than to test my mindset. Inspired by the Stoic philosopher Cato, I started to wear inappropriate clothes for the weather and the occasional outrageous outfit (I’m an introvert so this was very difficult for me). This is something that Cato would do in order to practise feeling shame. When his peers laughed at him, he would focus on how he responded to these emotions and would treat this as a test of character.

To further challenge my mind, I started learning new skills and would pay attention to what my mind was doing in the process. It was interesting to explore my relationship with the frustrations I encountered. I started learning Japanese and can now have a conversation in the language without my brain hurting too much (well, almost). I learned how to solve a Rubik’s cube in under a minute, fold complicated origami, juggle and pick locks. Yes, some of the challenges were rather bizarre.

Since starting to explore voluntary discomfort, I have been on countless adventures and have ended up doing things that I never thought I would be capable of. I even wrote my first book about this whole experience which was published in June 2020 (but that’s another story). This is just scratching the surface though and there are many more challenges that I’ve been completing in the name of self-improvement. It’s safe to say that my life has been very different since discovering this empowering Stoic concept. I’m in control of my anxiety now and I’m not the panicky mess that I once was. I feel very grateful to have found this tool.

The challenges pushed me out of my comfort zone in many different ways and helped me to test out the ideas I had been reading about in a relatively controlled environment. They’ve taught me so much about myself and how I respond to difficulty. When I’m 22 miles into a marathon and my mind is begging me to stop, this is a wonderful time to lean into Stoicism. When I’m enduring the pain of an ice-bath, this the perfect opportunity to embrace discomfort. When I’m learning a new skill, dealing with frustrations or pushing myself with a fiddly task, this is a fantastic time to pay attention to my mindset.

This philosophical framework has helped me to face these challenges and gives them a higher purpose. When I view everything as a form of “mind training”, it allows me to give value to every challenge I complete. Eventually, this started to bleed into other areas of my life and I could use normal day-to-day problems as an opportunity to challenge myself. Traffic – The perfect test of patience. Someone is rude – The perfect test for measuring and controlling my response. There are many more examples of this and it has been a great way for me to reframe tough situations. I don’t always pass the test, but seeing it as a test helps me to learn from life’s difficulties.

The Stoic theory is that we prepare for adversity by practising adversity. I feel that this concept has certainly been working for me. An important thing to note is that I wouldn’t for one minute say that I am prepared for everything that fate might throw at me. Not at all! That would be unbelievably arrogant. What I really want to put across is that I am better prepared than I used to be. I’m not perfect (far from it), but I am working to better myself each day. I feel a lot more confident at handling the curve-balls life throws at me than I was in the past.

A few years ago, I couldn’t walk to the bench in my local park without freaking out. I now deliberately seek out difficult and scary situations. This has been real and significant progress for me. There is always room for improvement though and I’m excited to see where all of this takes me. I will continue to push myself out of my comfort zone and lean into Stoicism.

I believe that stepping outside of our comfort zones can be a great way to build mental resilience and I would encourage you to try it out for yourself. Why not seek out some challenges that will scare you senseless and push you into the unknown? This way you can put your personal philosophy to the test. As Epictetus famously put it: “Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.”

I wish you the best of luck with the challenges that you face in your life, both the ones you choose and the ones forced upon you.

Ben Aldridge is the author of  How to Be Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable: 43 Weird & Wonderful Ways to Build a Strong Resilient Mindset. Influenced by Stoicism, Buddhism, Popular Psychology, and CBT, Ben’s challenges encourage getting uncomfortable and experiencing personal growth. You can learn more at his website, and find him on Instagram and Twitter

Podcast #7: Kasey Pierce, Comics, Life, and Stoicism

In this episode I talk to Kasey Pierce, about comics, life, and Stoicism.

Kasey is a comic book author and editor, and the latest issue of her book Norah can now be found in comic stores.

Check out Kasey Pierce at:
Twitter: @kosmickasey
Instagram: @kcdwrites
Website: http://sourcepointpress.com/

Leave a comment for us below about the podcast you’ve heard today!

Stoicism and Bullying by Matthew Sharpe

Many people on this list may have in the past, or may be at present, experiencing what people today call “bullying”.  Many others of us may have real hesitations about the term, for it can be thrown around too loosely, like many other emotive words.  It can also be politicized in different ways.

But most of us have a sense of what the term “bullying” means.  Bullying describes the intentional act of intimidating, harassing, ostracizing, or belittling another person(s), often with the particular aim of inflicting intentional damage to their standing in front of others.  (These last bits also go by the names of ‘slandering’ and ‘back-stabbing’).

Bullying under these descriptions is certainly one of those human things that Marcus Aurelius would remind us that we can always see, if we stop for a moment to meditate on what life was like in the courts of Hadrian or Augustus, or in any historical society.

Most of us will remember that big kid at school who needed to be the center of attention, and who would throw his weight around to intimidate smarter or better-behaved kids.  Many of us, as parents, will have grave worries about the potential for online bullying that our kid’s growing up into a world of social media presents.  Too often, the news in Australia airs stories of young people who have taken their own lives, in response to the distress that they have experienced in response to online bullying and belittling.

There is a large literature on the realities of bullying in the workplace, both between equals, and by managers who feel threatened by particular staff members, but are unable to directly dismiss them.  Instead, various practices of exclusion, nonrecognition, what is called “mobbing” (basically, sanctioned group-ostracizing), and even “gaslighting” (actions which make the person feel uncomfortable, like tampering with door locks) are initiated in the hope that the person will feel so unsafe in their workplace that they will basically jump ship.

It should be clear that Stoics themselves will have no truck with such actions, by whatever name we call them.  Here, Socrates’ principle, so dear to Stoicism, that it is better to suffer than to do injustice applies.  (And Socrates knew alot what it was like to have people slandering him unjustly, after all.  It was just such slander, in 399 BCE, which would take his life).

Undertaking bullying actions not only reflects badly on the people who undertake or sanction them.  As Seneca reminds us in On Anger, such actions bespeak cowardice and weakness, not any real strength.  The virtuous person has no need to bring others down, in order to feel happy and secure within themselves. And Stoicism, we know, holds virtue, strength of character, to be the only good.  

Of course, those of us who are not sages will from time to time feel impulses towards envy, resentment, anger, disgust, contempt, or outrage towards our fellows.  But Stoics practice reminding themselves that human beings are both literally born of sociability and love, and that we thrive as social beings, like the hands connected to the body, or the branches of a single tree.

Bullying actions like those I have described, however we choose to label them, tear at the bonds that tie people together.  To again evoke Seneca, they are like the acid that corrodes the sides of the vessel that holds it.  By monitoring our representations, and honestly addressing our motivations, the Stoic strives to resist any impulses towards meanly bringing down others, malicious gossip behind people’s backs, or damaging abuse to their faces. 

When the Stoic sees such low actions being prepared or perpetrated against others, s/he should always do all that s/he can to stop them, consistent with the other virtues.

But here is the thing: what if it is you who are on the receiving end of such intimidation, ostracism, and slander?   What, if anything, can Stoicism tell us about how you should respond, if it is your reputation that is being dragged through the mud, or drowned in it?  Or what advice can Stoic philosophy give to parents who can see, for instance, that their child is wrestling online or at school with bullying?

Everyone knows that the popular image of Stoicism suggests that people should just ‘grin and bear it’, with a ‘stiff upper lip’, and so on.  But readers on this list will know that this is a deeply partial, misleading understanding of Stoicism.

First of all, as in any situation where another human being is experiencing distress, the Stoic should treat them with concern and respect.  If the person is in the immediate grips of the emotions of distress, despair, or anger-all possible and real responses people who experience these things feel-there is no point in denying or suppressing these emotions. 

When the wave of the emotion has subsided, however, Stoic therapeutic and philosophical arguments can offer real help.  Stoicism doesn’t, impossibly, promise that we can change what the others are thinking or doing.  It does however prompt people to refocus on what they can do, even in situations of great adversity.  And this can be immensely liberating.

One response people who have suffered intimidation in the workplace or elsewhere tend to feel, for instance, is outrage at the (often very real) injustice of what has happened to them.  In many cases, nothing they have done will justify how they are being treated.  In others, what their bullies claim about them, as a supposed justification for the bullying, is self-serving and misleading.

The Stoic question about this is: can we change this?  Can we change what others are choosing and thinking?  Can we prevent them from thinking unjust or hateful things about us, or trying to convince third parties that we are in some ways disreputable, bad, ugly, stupid … whatever it is?

The answer is of course: no, we cannot.  It is very understandable to wish that we could.  But that wish is not rational.  What we can control are our thoughts, desires, and actions: how we respond to others’ vices.  Everything else, nature or Zeus has, in its higher wisdom, distributed to others.

Another thing people understandably feel and express in such situations is “but it is different when it happens to you”.  For the Stoic, the answer to this claim is “yes and no”.  That it is happening to you is (hopefully) new, and won’t happen many times to you in your life.  But that it is happening at all is not unusual for human beings.  When we think about it, we have all been told, read, or watched stories in which envious, scheming Iago-like characters take aim at people who are more virtuous and worthy than they are. 

It helps then to cultivate a view which enables us an inner distance from our impulse to feel hurt and singled out by a cruel fate.  The philosopher Francis Bacon, for instance, when he was brought down from high office in circumstances which people continue to debate, took comfort in comparing his fall from public grace with that of other good people and philosophers, like Socrates and Seneca. 

It helps to remember that better people than us have suffered worse than we are suffering.  And in many cases, they have endured it with fortitude and dignity that can inspire us.  Grief shared is grief halved, Bacon also said.  Just so, remembering that we are not alone in experiencing difficulties is a great consolation. 

If someone reports to you that others have been slandering you, Marcus reminds himself, they have not reported that you are hurt by it.  The same applies today to social media.  If someone abusively attacks you, or unlikes or unfriends you, that alone is what has happened in the world-not that you and your state of mind is directly affected by their choices.

Stoicism bids us remember also that even the worst people will each have been doing what they thought was good.  If they have lied or become abusive, then the fault and the shame lies with them.  If they have acted out of envy and resentment, that also is ‘their bad’, not ours.  Leave that fault and burden with them, rather than letting their meanness become an inner burden for you to carry.

But doesn’t Stoicism, with all this focus on what we can do, prevent us from seeking justice against cowards and schemers?  And doesn’t sometimes turning the other cheek merely encourage bullies, since they can take your nonresponse as license to keep behaving in the same ways?

No.  We can and should try to change the world, to the extent that we can, and justice is a virtue.  But pursuing justice is not the same as pursuing vengeance, the desire for which the Stoics tells us literally defines the emotion of anger.  Outrage, even if it is righteous outrage, tends to blind us.

Moreover, the bullies’ best defense against possible censure for their actions involves pointing to their victim and saying: ‘look how angry this person is?  Did I not say that they were unstable, stupid, ugly, unprofessional …’

Such blaming of the victim clears any pangs of conscience the bully or bullies may have.  It also provides an ex post facto justification, in case anyone protests, for their ill treatment of you.  You ‘had it coming’, and this anger or distress that you are showing is ‘all the proof anyone needs,’ etc.

It can seem sometimes, when we study the way that bullying works–and much more serious forms of persecution in human history–that it involves not one, but two actions.  First, a person or group is targeted for vilification, verbally or through other actions.  Then, second, when the targets react to this vilification, this is retrospectively pointed to as ‘proof’ that the first form of mistreatment was justified.  Today, we call this kind of mindset and acting in the online space ‘trolling’.

All of the psychological studies on how to respond to bullying therefore recommend what Stoicism also, I believe, counsels.  As hard as it may be, to show your emotion to bullies tends only to make things worse.  Not only do some of them take pleasure in seeing their targets showing distress, since this is what they wished all along.  Showing such emotion also enables them, in the way described, to feel justified in their actions.

The best revenge is not to become like the wrongdoer, Marcus Aurelius tells us, in one of the most beautiful sentences of the Meditations (VI, 5).  To meet aggression with aggression, especially when it is workplace or managerial bullying that is at stake, is unwise, both at a philosophical but also at a practical level.  

The best thing one can do is rather to “let go of the rope,” using the metaphor of a tug of war.  The unwise person who wishes to bring another person down draws fuel by seeing that their words or actions have got under their target’s skin-or, as we Stoics might say, that their target has assented to the idea that they have been harmed. 

So, if we withhold this assent, if we effectively say to the representations of that person in our heads “you are not welcome here, you cannot harm me”, then this in itself is not simply empowering for our peace of mind, but disempowering for our ill-meaning, unwise friends.  Like the vampire of popular mythology, who can only enter our homes if we invite them, refusing to give the bully power over our thoughts also robs them of any possible sense of vindication for the meanness. 

None of this is easy.  Like dealing with loss, disappointment, and other shocks, it is very hard.  Stoics know that attaining to true virtue is hard.  Sages are as rare as a phoenix in Egypt, after all.  Seneca teaches clemency to the young Emperor Nero (unsuccessfully) on these grounds. 

It is vital if you are experiencing bullying that you seek out good counsel, with people you can rely upon and support you, including in any attempts to achieve just restitution against the wrongdoer.

But with practice, reading and discussing Stoic ideas, this extraordinary philosophy can give consolation, direction, and strength to people who are facing that particular kind of adversity that involves malicious behavior by others.  We cannot directly change them, but we can address and change how we react to them.  And by doing so, we can use even the bullying of others as the opportunity to strengthen and better ourselves, and teach others.  

Matt Sharpe teaches philosophy at Deakin University, Australia.  He is presently completing a book on the history of the idea of philosophy as a way of life, and is cotranslator of Pierre Hadot’s Selected Essays: Philosophy as Practice (Bloomsbury, 2020).

Podcast #6: Brittany Polat, Oikeiosis and Human Nature

In this week’s episode, we talk to Brittany Polat about oikeiosis, what the ancient Stoics called the natural progression toward virtue.

Brittany is an author, blogger, and parent, and you can check out her book, Tranquility Parenting: A Guide to Staying Calm, Mindful, and Engaged.

Check out Brittany Polat at:
Upcoming project: http://www.livinginagreement.com
Website: https://www.apparentstoic.com/
Twitter: @brittanypolat

Leave a comment for us below about the podcast you’ve heard today!

Death and Stoicism by Harald Kavli

How we face death is an ever-recurring theme in the texts of the Roman Stoics. As a frequent reader of these texts, I have at times wondered why they were so preoccupied with death. What is the value of being aware over your own mortality, and can thinking about death make us live better lives?

Contemplating Death

Most of us do not spend any more time reflecting over our mortality than we have to. We live in societies where we are far more sheltered from death than has ever been the case, especially those of us who live in Western societies. Modern medicine and our healthcare systems have allowed most of us to reach a high age, and the corona epidemic, which although it should not be underestimated, is still nothing compared to past epidemics, which have left entire cities desolate.

I don’t think it’s unusual to reach my age (33)  without having seen a  dead person, or having lost someone you care about. Death appears as something that largely concerns others, or at worst   ourselves in a very distant future. This situation seems to be a quite recent development. You do not have to go back further than a few generations before things that are now quite manageable, like a cardiac arrest, were something much more serious which would more often than not end in death.

Wars are also largely a distant memory in Western-Europe, and although western-European soldiers have been deployed in several wars since WW2, those wars have been fought in foreign lands.  Trade and technology have distanced us from nature, in that poor harvests rarely have any direct consequences for most our lives beyond an increase in the cost of food, which in the West is mostly quite manageable.  

Therefore, I do not think that it is strange that many of us would consider contemplating death to be a weird habit. I do think, however, that there are good reasons to reflect on the fact that we will die one day. Contemplating death can that we will die provides guidance on how we live until we die, and it can help us spend our time better. As Seneca,  wrote:

Can you show me even one person who sets a price on his time, who knows the worth of a day, who realizes that every day is a day when he is dying? In fact, we are wrong to think that death lies ahead: much of it has passed us by already, for all our past life is in the grip of death.

Epistle 1.2

If we are able to set a price on our time, to know the worth of a day, and to realize that every day is indeed a day when we are dying, it seems clear to me that there will be certain ways of being in the world that will seem more meaningful than others. As long as we consider death to be something that happens to other people, or to our distant selves, we might end up treating ourselves as immortals, in some sense. If we do recognize our mortality, however, we might act like people act when they know that they do not have much time left. We might get a desire to at least intend to settle old scores, to right past wrongs, to not waste so much time and try to squeeze more life out of every day. 

And likewise, there are certain states of mind and activities that will begin to seem ridiculous if we are able to be conscious of our mortality. How much sense does it really make to go around and sulk over some past slight, over the potential partner who rejected you, the job you applied for, but didn’t get, or the professor who gave you a poorer grade than you felt that you deserved? Or what about all the things we do to kill time, or merely thoughtless habits,  which more often than not fail to even bring us pleasure, like binge-watching half-good shows on Netflix or long trips down a rabbit hole on YouTube.

In other words, we see that death can be a lens which we see life through, and help us to assess what has and does not have value. In chapter 34 of the Enchiridion, Epictetus gives us an advice on how we can resist temptations. He encourages us to not only consider the pleasure that we might get from a certain object or activity, but also how you would feel after you have gained the object or preformed the activity. While Epictetus is main point here seems to be a way for us to resist temptations, it seems quite possible to extend this perspective to the way we spend our time.

How will you feel at the end of the day if all you have done is to watch Netflix? And if you reflect over the amount of time that you spend sulking over past wrongs, do you really think that the time that you spent sulking was time well spent? Death adds something even more to this exercise, since a consciousness of our mortality will also make us conscious over the fact that the number of days that we will live on this planet is finite. And since our time here is limited, it seems plausible that we can waste it. Viewed through this lens, it becomes easier to see that we are indeed wasting time. At the very least we can do what Seneca claimed that he had accomplished when he said that “I cannot say that nothing has been wasted, but at least I can say what, and why, and how; I can state the causes of my impoverishment.” (Epistle 1.4.) In other words, while it seems quite a challenge to waste no time, we can at the very least hope to waste less of it.

Another perspective that the Stoics drew is that it is not the length of life that matters, but rather its content. How can we then ensure that the content of life is as good as it could be? I think that we can go far simply by looking at some of the low-hanging fruits, so to speak. I do not think that you need to agree with the Stoics’ claim that virtue is sufficient for happiness to follow along on what I have written so far, and I will not try to defend that claim here, but rather merely appeal to an intuition that most of us have over the value of virtue in and of itself.

While not all of us would go as far as the Stoics did, and say that this is sufficient, I think that we all can agree that things like justice, courage and so on are indeed virtues that we ought to strive for. We can also try to think of our lives as projects in which certain goals ought to be achieved, and time is the currency that we spend in order to fulfill those goals.

Fear of Death

Death seems terrifying for most us, and those of us who are not terrified of death are often calm due to the sense of distance between us and death. For Seneca, death was simply the end: all sensory impressions and cognitive abilities cease. He occasionally borrows some thoughts from Epicurus who said that “When we are, death is not, when death is, we are not.” (Letter to Meneocius)

It is possible to object to this, and claim that the evilness of death is rather that you are deprived of the opportunity to experience various goods that you could have experienced if you had still been alive. However, you won’t be able to perceive that you have lost the opportunity to achieve these goods. It is also possible to compare being dead with not having been born. Both are a form of non-existence, and since we cannot claim to have suffered any harm by the other, it makes sense to say that the first one should present any problem either. If death is just a cessation, death cannot itself be an evil.

For the Stoics, however, the fear of death itself is an evil. While they would claim that no harm befalls us when we die, we are harmed by spending our days in fear over something that we cannot escape, and we can very well end up doing harm to ourselves by the things that we do to extend our lives, such as for instance deserting from an army that is fighting a just war, failing to help someone who is about to be beaten to death or raped and other similar things, because we fear that we might get killed ourselves. Our fear of death can therefore have a devastating effect on our own character, as extreme situations can force us to do terrible actions to keep ourselves alive.

Also, the greatness of someone’s character can be seen especially clear in situations where their lives are on the line or where they are presented with an apparently great danger, such as Socrates during his trial, or Epicurus on his deathbed. For a more contemporary example, we can turn to Witold Pilecki who volunteered to go undercover in Auschwitz during WW2 in order to gather intelligence for the allied forces. One of the things that made these people great is that they had learned to consider their own deaths as something acceptable.

Furthermore, death remains beyond our own control. Although we eat healthy, shy away from danger, and refrain from drugs and alcohol, we might still slip on our way out of the shower and smash our heads into the floor. We are fragile creatures, and not much is required to kill us. While we can intend to take care of our bodies and extend our lives (and it most cases, we should), we can never be certain that we will succeed to achieve what we intend.

Therefore, we should intend to do these things with a reservation clause, and always be conscious over the fact that we might fail. Also, we should keep in mind that failing to extend our lives is not something horrible, and that death comes to us all regardless of what we do. This should not, however, be a license for us to waste our lives, either by destroying our bodies needlessly or wasting our time.

Although we cannot do anything about the fact that we are dying, we can do something about the very fear of dying. We can do this not by avoiding thinking about it, but rather by thinking clearly about it. By reflecting on death we can see that death is nothing to fear. For it is not death itself that is an evil. The problem is our perception of it as an evil. Getting rid of this notion is also something we ourselves can control.

The Stoics utilized several techniques for doing so, one of my favorites, although perhaps amongst the gloomier ones, comes from Marcus Aurelius: “Stop whatever you’re doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do this anymore?” (Meditations X, 29). This, I think, can serve two purposes.

On the one hand, if you do this while you are stuck in traffic, on hold while calling some call center, or something like that, it can become quite clear that life consists of several things that it makes no sense to fear losing.

On the other hand, it can also encourage you to do more things that would at the very least make you pause to consider whether the answer could be ‘yes’, for instance if you do this while you are hugging your kids, reading philosophy or conducting brave and just actions.  

If you do feel that you must pause to consider whether death is something horrible because you cannot do this anymore, it may be necessary to take it a step further, and try to internalize the idea that death is a part of life, and that we are all actors in a play, and that our very mortality is one of the things that give life meaning. Would not everything seem to pale if they could not be lost? How could you even speak of wasting time, if the amount of time that you have at your disposal is infinite? Yet another exercise is to imagine some great person, either from your own life, or from history or from fiction, who faced death with equanimity.

This leads us into a bigger problem. How should we deal more generally with what is beyond our own control? Life is not the only thing we hold on to that we cannot control. For example, we care about others’ perceptions of ourselves, we want to avoid pain, and we want some form of material prosperity. These things are deeply beyond our control. We may intend to avoid apparent evils and achieve apparent benefits, but when we try to do so, we can tread wrongly and end up corrupting what is actually a good, our own character.

At this point, it might be prudent to say a few words about an important concept in Epictetus, prohairesis. While it is difficult to translate, the “faculty of will” seems to be a good choice. Our prohairesis is the only thing that is potentially perfectly within our own control. It is also something that we can use to add value to all of the things that are outside our control. While death, pain and bodily harm are not truly evil, enduring these things with equanimity when they cannot or should not be avoided is a good thing. 

The point is not that we should be completely apathetic (in the non-Stoic meaning of the word) to anything but our own character, but rather we should be detached from it, and realize that all that we have, we have borrowed, and that we can lose it at any time. Furthermore, we might follow Epictetus’ lead, and stop saying that we have lost something altogether, but rather that we have given something back. This is not the same as, to have any reasons for preferring something over something else but rather a form of interest with a reservation. Having an interest in staying alive with a reservation will in effect mean recognizing that you will die, that you cannot do anything about it, and that preserving our own character should be the highest goal, so that if one has to choose between saving your life, or preserving your own character, you must choose the latter.

I think that Witold Pilecki can be used as an example to show how we ought to do this, and how we might care about our own lives with a reservation. He was a married man, and had children, and while it is impossible for me to know what went through his mind when he volunteered to go undercover in Auschwitz, but it might very well be that he managed to see that while he had reasons for not risking his life, there was something that was more important, namely to do what is right, to stand up to injustice and to fight tyranny.

Conclusion

We have now seen a couple of Stoic perspectives on death, as well as how this affects the way we live our lives. This is by no means exhaustive, but I hope this text will be able to trigger a desire to continue reading about the Stoics. Since the Roman Stoics talk about it so frequently, all of their works can be recommended.

There is however, a more recent selection of annotated quotes primarily by Seneca called How to die: An Ancient Guide to the End of Life, edited, translated and introduced by James S. Romm. Also, for someone who would like to read a more modern philosopher who is still greatly indebted to the Stoics, Michel de Montaigne’s essay “To Philosophize is to Learn to Die” is highly recommended. Also, The Apology by Plato is of course essential reading. There are still important aspects of death that I have not directly addressed, such as how to deal with the death, suicide and euthanasia of others. There are also some features of the way the Stoics talk about death, which occasionally turns into something that almost seems like a longing for death.

In conclusion, I would say that the main point that I have been trying to put forward is that getting the right perspective on death is a way of getting the right perspective on life and how one should live it. The fact that life has an end gives it perspective and meaning. I choose to give the last words to Marcus Aurelius:. “Death overshadows you. While you’re alive and able—be good.” (Meditations IV, 17)

Sources:

  • Aurelius, Marucs. Meditations. Translated by Gregory Hays. The Modern Library: New York.
  • Epictetus. Discourses, Fragments, Handbook. Translated by Robin Hard. Oxford University Press: Oxford. .
  • Seneca, Lucius Annaeus. Letters on Ethics to Lucilius. Translated by Margaret Graver and A. A. Long.  University of Chicago Press: Chicago and London.

Harald Kavli is a Masters Student in Philosophy at the University of Oslo. He is the organizer of the Oslo Stoics, and is currently translating Epictetus’ Discourses into Norwegian.