The big STOICON 2021 conference is coming up soon on October 9. If you haven’t gotten your ticket for the event, click here to do so (the ticket price is any level of donation you’d like to make). We’re continuing our established tradition of publishing interviews with the Stoicon speakers, workshop providers, panelists, and organizers. That way people interested or planning to participate in Stoicon 2021 can get to know them a bit before the conference. We continue with Brittany Polat, one of our STOICON speakers, and a recent addition to the Modern Stoicism team!
To see the schedule for Stoicon, or to get your ticket for this event – donations for tickets support the continued work of Modern Stoicism, Ltd – click here and you will be taken to the Stoicon 2021 Eventbrite site.
We’re very happy to have you here. Please introduce yourself and your work to our readers.
I call myself a researcher on Stoicism as a way of life, but really that just means I spend my time trying to develop wisdom for myself and others. I wrote a book on Stoic parenting (called Tranquility Parenting: A Guide to Staying Calm, Mindful, and Engaged), I run the Stoic Parents Facebook group, and I created a website called Living In Agreement, where I explore Stoic moral psychology in the 21st century. My latest project, with Eve Riches, is Stoicare.com, which is an online hub for all Stoics who care. We have resources for parents, teachers, medical professionals, and community volunteers. We want to show how Stoicism can help us to care more deeply about others while also managing stress and avoiding burnout.
If you had to pick one, what would you say is the most important aspect of Stoicism?
I don’t think I can pick the single most important aspect of Stoicism, but I will just mention one that I think should be more prominent in modern Stoicism: consistency. In Zeno’s early teachings, he seemed to emphasize that our end-goal in life is “living in agreement,” which means living with a single consistent goal in mind. How can we be happy if we keep changing our minds about what’s important in life, chasing a different goal every day? That just leads to inner conflict, dissatisfaction, and misery.
Instead, we want to think very carefully about our purpose in life, and once we’ve found it, we should stick to it. For Stoics, this goal is virtue. If we wake up each day with the goal of being a good person, then everything we do that day should reflect that goal. The way we interact with other people, the way we do our jobs, even the way we decorate our homes is based on the same end-goal. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but if we can figure out how to live in agreement–with ourselves, with other people, and with the wider world – we will be much happier.
As an ancient philosophy, is Stoicism still just as useful and relevant in our late modern world?
Absolutely. If you’d like to read stories from people whose lives have been touched by Stoicism, visit our Practical Paths to Flourishing website. In June I had the honor of co-hosting, with Kathryn Koromilas, the historic first conference on Stoicism and women. Before the conference we asked attendees to briefly share stories about how Stoicism helps them flourish. Many of the stories are quite touching. (And by the way, anyone who would like to share their own Stoic story is welcome to submit one on the website!) We now have abundant evidence that Stoicism helps many people in the 21st century to lead happier, more meaningful lives.
What topics do you plan or anticipate to talk about at Stoicon?
I will be talking about one of the most misunderstood topics in Stoicism: caring about other people. There is an unfortunate misperception that Stoicism requires practitioners to give up their social attachments and stop caring about others. But this is a wildly inaccurate interpretation of Stoic philosophy. Stoic philosophers like Epictetus don’t want us to stop caring about others, they just want us to care wisely. Caring wisely means we love others while recognizing that our friends and family are mortal, and we could lose them at any time. Caring wisely means we love others without letting our happiness depend on their actions. And caring wisely also means we focus more on what we can give to a relationship than what we can take from it. So I will be discussing how modern Stoics can build on the ancient ideas of love and how we can implement them in our own lives.
Are you excited for Stoicon 2021? Is it Stoic, or not, to be “excited”?
I am definitely excited for Stoicon 2021! I think it’s in keeping with Stoic virtue to be happy about the good things in the world, especially those that help cultivate virtue in ourselves and others. Larry Becker even said, “Sages ought to be the very people most passionately affected by virtue – and be surpassingly passionate about it because they perceive it to be surpassingly valuable.” Stoicon helps bring together Stoics for a day of developing wisdom and building community, so it’s definitely something to be excited about!