We continue our series of interviews with the speakers for the upcoming virtual STOICON 2020, with our last mid-week post, this one with Andi Sciacca. STOICON is coming up this Saturday, and you can see the schedule here.
How would you introduce yourself and your work to our readers?
I like to think of myself as an advocate for access, education, and equity – and a proud #MKEpreneur. I’m currently leading the development of The MKE Food School – a center for learning, innovation, community-building, and resource-sharing, working to create the space for an inspired and inclusive conversation around Milwaukee’s community table. I also teach for the Milwaukee Institute of Art + Design and lead the graduate curriculum for the Food Business School of The Culinary Institute of America. I am most fulfilled when I can help others leverage learning opportunities in ways that help them connect and flourish.
How do you currently make use of Stoicism in your work?
As a person who does a great deal of work in leadership and board positions, I find that there are plenty of opportunities to practice Stoicism in my work. Most often, my application of Stoicism in workplace environments is evidenced through the act of reminding myself of what we find in Epictetus, Enchiridion, 17:
Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it is his pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the character assigned you; to choose it is another’s.
So often, in workplace environments, especially when stressors can be high and our efforts can feel out of balance, we see ourselves as independent operators with identities that are our own, or roles / privileges / titles we need to defend and protect. When this occurs, we can be quick to forget or criticize the goals or even be resentful of the group / team. As a person who is self-employed and engages in a good deal of contract and freelance work, when I find myself struggling with operational models that are externally enforced, I call on this quote to remind myself that today I might be a governor – and tomorrow a private person – and the next day, wear the cloak of the poor – so the best thing I can do is be accepting of what comes my way and focus on acting the part required of me for that project or that task. This doesn’t mean I surrender all agency or take the approach of apathy – it means that I act as needed while trusting the ability to choose indifference
When and how did you first become interested in Stoicism?
My first introduction to Stoicism was as a member of my high school’s academic decathlon team in the mid-1980s. We had passages from Epictetus in our study packs, and I remember being drawn to them – especially given the intellectual stress of that preparatory process – while sensing that there was something for me to study and learn that went far beyond the decathlon experience. Then, as an undergraduate, I worked on translations from Cicero as part of a Latin course, and I again felt like there was a resonance in what I was reading and struggling to translate. However, I didn’t pursue anything further as a course of philosophical investigation until I was introduced to Donald Robertson’s Stoic Mindfulness & Resilience Training course five or six years ago. It was then that I really found my “home” in Stoicism and now, I look forward to Stoicon, Stoicon-X, Stoic Week, and the SMRT course every year – and find new reasons and new resonances each time.
What’s the most important aspect of Stoicism to you?
The most important aspect for me is found in the constancy and the solidness of regular study coupled with the application of what I am learning through that practice. Whether I’m reading Marcus Aurelius, or Epictetus, or reviewing a comment from someone in SMRT, or a post on Stoicism Today written by someone applying Stoicism to their lives – whatever the source, there is an undercurrent of substance that steadies me. I’ve found that the study of Stoicism and the ways in which it has helped me understand the pursuit of a good life and the willingness to accept what that life brings actually creates a sense of comfort and connection that my previous habits of trying to control everything – or spending all of my time directing externally-focused emotional traffic – did not afford.
In what ways do you think Stoicism still matters today?
I believe that one of the most significant ways we know that Stoicism matters today can be found in the evidence we see of ways that we can choose to approach the impact of the kinds of issues we are grappling with as a global community. From the devastating effects of the pandemic – to a fractured social fabric and collective outcry over responses to issues of access and equity – any kind of study or practice that encourages us to focus on what is within our control actually gifts us a unique kind of agency. Again, returning to Epictetus, within us, we find our destruction and our deliverance. When we acknowledge that we have the ability to frame our understanding of things that are outside of our control within a larger way of being connected to the world, we can focus on the pieces we can control and we can choose to act with the goal of making the good life more accessible for others and for ourselves.
As Marcus Aurelius says in his Meditations:
Your ability to control your thoughts—treat it with respect. It’s all that protects your mind from false perceptions—false to your nature, and that of all rational beings. It’s what makes thoughtfulness possible, and affection for other people, and submission to the divine.
How has Stoicism affected the way you live your life?
With each new investigation and exploration, I have been challenged to work on so many of the ills of modern personhood. I’ve become more compassionate, more genuinely engaged, less judgemental, less prone to overreaction, and less likely to take things personally than at any point in my life prior. I’ve learned the incredible value of the concept of indifference and preferred indifference and find myself modeling a more generous way of being in the world with others. I’m less convinced of my own “right” to something and more collaborative and comfortable in being one of many working for a common goal. I am only at the beginning, still, even after five years of working at it – but I am so much further along than I was when I started and look forward to continuing to practice the kinds of skills and tools that have helped me thus far.
What’s one of your favourite Stoic quotations and why?
One of the Stoic quotations that has been guiding me most lately – especially given the extra time to work and reflect on my desires for personal growth – would be from Enchiridion 13:
If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid with regard to external things. Don’t wish to be thought to know anything; and even if you appear to be somebody important to others, distrust yourself. For, it is difficult to both keep your faculty of choice in a state conformable to nature, and at the same time acquire external things. But while you are careful about the one, you must of necessity neglect the other.
I find, at this point of my life, that I am drilling down to the essential and working at making my life into something more productive and more conformable to nature – less connected to externals (whether possessions or the opinions of others) – and more based on seeking to live a good life.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about Stoicism?
While it is always wise to go to the source and read the works from the classic Stoic thinkers, there are so many supportive communities a person might engage in – including social media groups on FaceBook, local and virtual chapters of The Stoic Fellowship, and even simple conversations with others.
Do you have anything else that you wanted to mention while we have the chance?
If a bit of promotion is allowed, I will say that I am pleased to be able to contribute to three Stoic-connected events this year, and they are as follows:
- Stoicon 2020 – October 17, 2020 – presenting on the topic of The Stoic Heart: Stoicism and Relationships
- Stoicon-X Midwest 2020 – October 24, 2020 – participating in a panel on Organizing Stoic Meetups and Groups Panel: Tips, Best Practices, and Experiences – Moderated by Greg Sadler
- Stoic Salon – November 4 – a Stoicon-X event – presenting on the topic of Stoic journaling
I would also encourage anyone reading this to register for Stoic Week 2020 – beginning on October 19th.