This post by Pete Fagella is the first post in a new series that we will be running regularly here at Stoicism Today. There are a number of local Stoic groups and organizations, and we are going to create a space for the organizers and leaders to tell their stories, impart useful lessons, and get the word out about their meetings and activities – Greg Sadler, editor
My name is Pete Fagella and I am the facilitator and founder of the New England Stoics. Roughly two years ago this month I reached out to the Stoic Fellowship – the international organization that helps coordinate between local Stoic groups – to inquire if there were any groups in my area. There were none at that time, and the fellowship helped me start this one.
I sent the fellowship an email expressing interest in becoming part of a local group. I received a response from Greg Lopez who told me that although no group at that time existed, there were people who also wanted to be a part of one. Greg asked me if I would be willing to take the lead, I thought to myself “why not”.
Greg sent me a list of all of the people who had expressed an interest and introduced me to them via e-mail. He introduced me to an organizing tool called doodle and after many emails back and forth and through the use of doodle who had planned our first meeting. The fellowship was critical to help our baby group reach this important phase.
At that time, we were not using the Meetup platform, so we had to promote ourselves on our own web page which we have since replaced with an improved site and a mailing list. As people would come to our meetings, we added them onto the mailing list and used that to notify previous attendees of future meetings
The first meeting was like no other. There was no specific topic, nor any foundation as to how to proceed. We mostly just got to know each other and discussed what drew us to each other. This was an experiment about whether such a group was feasible. Several significant events happened during this meeting:
- we adopted our name, The New England Stoics
- we learned that people would come to meetings if we had them
- our leadership team was created.
We stayed an hour after closing, nobody realized the time and the staff at Panera Bread didn’t tell us. Immediately afterwards I informed Greg of our success and we started the process of being listed as part of the Stoic Fellowship.
Following meetings were about specific topics though we had no discernible pattern. We would discuss a variety of times such as death, the definition of good, happiness, whatever we would think of really. Mostly we were trying to understand stoicism ourselves at that time and by meeting in a group we were able to start to help each other understand. Admittedly, I still have a lot to learn.
However, after several attempts we begin to figure out what worked and what didn’t. We realized quickly that having a team of people involved in the planning process was much more beneficial than a single individual. I would have ultimate say in what we did but as a team we would discuss the events of the previous meeting and determine how to improve. The most difficult challenge was deciding where to meet, we tried many different places and times.
At first, we wanted to have a rotating meeting location in different towns so that people from all over the region would have better chances to attend the meetings. We were after all, at that time, the only group in the entirety of New England. This did not have the result we hoped for, regulars still came, but not many new people. For the regulars it was an inconvenience to go so far out of their ways for some of the locations. We decided to centralize our meetings and this seems to have had positive results.
Stoicon is an annual event in which Stoicism is discussed in great deal by experts in the field. The event attracts hundreds of people but unfortunately it is not accessible to many people. Consequently, the Stoic Fellowship and Modern Stoicism encourages the local groups to have a miniature version of this event called Stoicon-X. At first, I did not think that we had the numbers to have an event of this scale. We would often only have 3-4 people show up at our meetings. However, I was convinced by the other people in my team that we would try it anyway.
We created flyers to put around the region and posted the event on Eventbrite. We would hold the event in Worchester, Ma at the first Unitarian Church. Four of us would be involved in the event, each having their own individual speeches. We spent a lot of time on conference calls with each other hammering out the details.
In October of that year we hosted our first Stoicon-X event. Roughly 12 people showed up. Marc opened up the event with Stoicism 101 talking about the history and basic theory of Stoicism. John, who was a trained therapist discussed psychotherapy’s Debt to Stoicism & Intro to Philosophical Counseling. Tim had a speech entitled “The Intellectual Scalpel: Naming and Classification”. I hosted the event and discussed Stoicism and how it applies to social dynamics. Additionally, we performed a 10-minute play. John played the Stoic friend, Marc played the un-Stoic friend and I played a man who was seeking advice. We had refreshments and the entire thing lasted four hours.
Stoicon-X New England was a tremendous success. I realized that if we could have this much success on our small web site with minimal advertising then we could do wonders on Meetup. I could not afford to pay for Meetup, however, but another option existed. If you pay for Meetup you are allowed to have several slots for groups. The Stoic Fellowship helps groups that do not have Meetup to get in touch with other groups with free Meetup slots. I reached out to Greg Lopez again and he put me in touch with David Emory, facilitator of the Colorado Springs Stoa. David was extremely generous and we can thank our success primarily to him. We were able to create a Meetup slot under his account. If anybody is in the Colorado Springs area I highly recommend finding his group on Meetup.
With the Meetup page we were able to attract a much wider audience. We also had more confidence in our ability and knowledge of the material. We had individual meetings discussing each of the four stoic virtues, Wisdom, Courage, Temperance, and Justice. We talked about friendship, and reliance, and even death. We met new people and really began to grow.
The following Memorial Day we held a Stoic Camp in northern Maine. Tim attended the Wyoming Stoic camp and had mentioned it in the past. Marc had a cabin that he shared part time with other people. We married these two thoughts together and the idea for a New England Stoic camp was born.
We decided that Epictetus would be the focus of our event. The academic portion would define Stoicism and its history, would give a historical background on Epictetus himself, and would delve into the Discourses. We also had time for journaling. The camp however, was far from just academics; we had a lot of recreation as well.
Between 10-15 people showed up at the camp depending on the day. We were all asked to pack our own lunch, but we ate dinner as a group. I made pasta with homemade sauce one night, and we had BBQ another night. We hiked to several water falls and even had some of our lectures there, we even tested our Stoicism by playing the board game “Risk” which nearly ended several friendships. We also dedicated some quiet time for people to reflect and go on nature walks. Along with the cabin itself, the property had a yurt. We would listen to podcasts on Stoicism, but most importantly the yurt is where the New England Stoics adopted our event tradition. At the conclusion of our major events (not regular meetings) we set a timer for 60 seconds and when the timer goes off, we let out a mighty roar. It’s a lot of fun.
Almost immediately after the success of the camp we began to plan Stoicon-X 2019. This time we had three speakers, Zeph, Marc, and myself. This event actually took less planning then the first Stoicon-X. By this point we had already planned two major events so we had some experience. We learned from the camp the value of having dinner together. We learned from the first Stoicon-X and also the camp how time can escape us. Consequently, we decided that 2019 would last for 6 hours and was to be followed by a 2-hour pot luck dinner. We sold the tickets on Eventbrite and advertised on meetup as well as through Stoicism Today.
The next October we had our second Stoicon-X which had twice as much as the first in terms of attendance. I hosted the event and talked about why we practice philosophy, and I read from Cicero. Zeph discussed internals vs. externals, taking into account the challenges we face in modern society like mental illness that the ancient Stoics lacked a medical understanding about. He also addressed other road blocks to having true control of our own thoughts and impressions. Marc talked again about the history of Stoicism; he also did a speech on life philosophies. Additionally, Marc gave detailed recommendations on various online sources of information to learn more about Stoicism.
We had two break-out activities and an extended break time. The first break-out activity focused on knowing what is in your control, and what is not. We broke into 3 groups; in the groups we all discussed minor problems that we encountered, and using the information from Zeph’s speech on internals vs externals, we addressed the individual problems. We made sure to ask people to show us silly issues like being stuck in traffic and not divulge sensitive information.
The second break-out activity was a concentration on negative visualization. We again broke into 3 groups, but we rotated the people to create new groups. We wanted people to imagine mildly unpleasant things happening to them and discuss how to resolve them. We asked them to again not get too personal and to imagine events like a shoelace breaking. The ultimate point was to encourage people to appreciate things when we have them.
During the break, we had many books laid out with reviews placed inside the cover. We had a YouTube video of Donald Robertson at the Stoicon X Toronto. We had a station for gratitude letters, and we had snacks. The event went really well, and we handed out books as prizes, including Donald Robertson’s latest book How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, the Meditations, and several others. People had the options to just socialize or participate in some of the activities. At the end of the meeting we all went outside and let out a mighty roar.
The proceeds from the event went back into the group. We took no profit. We were able to fund a more integrated website www.nestoics.Org that includes a blog, and links to our Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, our mailing list, and of course a link to our Meetup page, which at this point has over 250 people.
The historic North End of Boston was the home of Paul Revere, and its still there. A few blocks away is the Old North Church. As the story goes, in the year 1775 the British had occupied Boston. Revolutionaries had expected armed conflict to begin soon and began to store weapons near the towns of Lexington and Concord. All of Boston was surrounded by colonial militia. A plan was set in place that from the Old North Church they would observe the British army. If the army began to march by land, one candle would be displayed in the church, and if by sea it would be two. The British marched by land and from the Old North Church one candle was observed by Paul Revere and he gallantly rode his horse to warn the colonials who had time to prepare. Thus, began the Revolutionary War. History tells us that this story was true to a degree but embellishes the role of Revere being the solo rider, in truth many people were involved.
We currently meet in this neighborhood, with its cobblestone streets, surrounded by all this history and so much more. Each month, one of our meetings is known as the “Philosopher’s Café”. This is a free-flowing conversation about whatever is on our minds. This is a great opportunity for those who are curious about Stoicism to learn the basics, while at the same time making new friends and creating possible mentorships.
Our vision is for people to be able to come in off the street and if they are in need of guidance, that we may be able to provide a possible option for them to explore. We are not at all interested in pushing our ideals on others, but if people are curious, we’d love to share. The dream of the Philosophers Café is to create more regulars who we can help grow into the virtuous people they want to be, we want to help people become happier and help the world to be a better place.
We recently started a new type of meeting. Traditionally we decide on a specific topic to discuss and just go with that, sometimes we will have topics relating to the previous meetings but not always. Having consulted with Greg Lopez while on conference call with several other Stoic group facilitators, I was introduced to a new idea called a practice group.
In addition to being a ranking member of the Stoic Fellowship, Greg is also the facilitator of the NYC Stoics. In his group he has developed essentially a class that is designed to help the aspiring Stoic Philosopher on how to essentially move from reading about Stoicism to living as a Stoic. There are 11 classes, meant to be one month apart. Each class contains readings and exercises. The entire program follows a sequential pattern such that each class is a pre-requisite to the next. Greg was generous enough to allow me to use this program. As of this publication we have had the first of the 11 classes and it was an amazing success.
As a general rule we will alternate every two weeks between the Philosopher’s Café and the practice group. We will not deviate from the practice group schedule, however we may on occasion substitute the Philosopher’s Café with special events such as Stoic Camp, Stoicon-X, or anything else we develop. Anything that will end with a mighty roar! We want to increase our presence to beyond the region, and endeavor to live up to the reputation the higher New England education has made for itself.
Geographically the New England Stoics is the largest group between the giants in New York (run by Massimo Pigliucci and Greg Lopez) and in Toronto (run by Donald Robertson). We want to be the bridge that brings New York and Toronto together. We can serve as either a stopover point for those traveling in between or as an easier option for people who live just out of reach for either. We are still relatively small, but we plan to be here for a long time, and we hope to bring others along for the ride.
In February, 2020 we will be marking our two-year anniversary. As of this publication we have 276 people signed up for our meetup with more joining at a steady rate. The meetings have gone from an average of 3-4 people to now between 10-15 people. We meet every two weeks and the vast majority of our events are free (unless they end with a mighty roar).
This group would not have been able to reach the status of where we are today without the help and generosity of so many people. I want to thank Greg Lopez who helped bring us all together and played a critical part in the development of this group. I want to thank Tim Howe for helping me in those very early days to head up our IT. It was with his help that we were able to attract those first members. He was also critical in the planning of Stoicon X 2018 and the stoic camp. I want to thank Marc Dashaies for sticking with us for nearly the entire adventure. Marc was who first suggested we have Stoicon-X 2018, he helped plan it he has also been a part of every other event and every other meeting we have had since. I want to thank John Monfredo who helped plan, and gave a wonderful speech at Stoicon X 2018. I want to thank David Emory of the Colorado Springs Stoa for giving us his free meetup slot. Without his help we would not have the membership that we do, nor would we have met the wonderful people we now know. Meetup introduced Zeph Chang to the group, and I want to thank him for all his effort in helping to plan everything that has happened after the Stoic Camp. Zeph is the man who revamped our online presence, he created the new web site and helped to integrate our entire online presence into a single platform. It was also Zeph who allowed us to use his house for Stoicon X 2019. He has been a good friend and a critical member of the leadership team. I want to thank Donald Robertson and Greg Sadler for the wisdom given to me as advice, and for their help in promoting our group and our events. Finally, I want to thank all of your for taking the time to read this article, I hope you enjoyed it.
I am not only the facilitator of the New England Stoics but I am also the regional support volunteer for the North East United States which includes all of New England and New York. Our mascot is the bald eagle and currently has four groups:
- Stoa Nova – New York, NY, USA
- The New England Stoics – Boston, MA, USA
- NYC Stoics – New York, NY, USA
- Vermont Stoics – Burlington, VT, USA
If you are interested in joining any of these groups please click on the links. If you would like more information or are interested in starting your own group in the North East Region feel free to join our discussion group on Facebook entitled “Stoicism Boston and New England”. Please now take 60 seconds to reflect in silence and follow it by a mighty roar!
Pete Fagella has been studying Stoic philosophy for the past 10 years. He currently runs the New England Stoics philosophy group out of Boston but lives in New Hampshire. He is currently studying Latin and for fun spends time with his children.