As we lead up to Stoicon 2021, held online again this year on October 9 (don’t forget to save the date!), we continue our 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 Greg Lopez, one of our panelists, who is involved in the modern Stoic community in a number of ways (as you’ll see below)!
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’m the founder of the New York City Stoics, co-founder and board member of The Stoic Fellowship, co-facilitator of Stoic Camp New York, co-author of A Handbook for New Stoics, and am on the Modern Stoicism team.
What first interested you in, or attracted you to Stoicism?
Over a decade ago, I started volunteering for, and ultimately became president of, an organization that teaches techniques from one of the first forms of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) — Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). There, I learned that Stoicism heavily influenced REBT and CBT, and became interested in learning more about it. After some more exploration, I found out that people were looking to practice Stoicism in the modern world, such as The New Stoa and The International Stoic Forum. While I found these groups edifying and interesting, I had more of an interest in learning and talking with other aspiring Stoics in person, which led me to start the NYC Stoics.
How does Stoicism figure into your work?
Well, Stoicism and philosophy is not mainly how I earn a living. I’m currently a lead editor for Examine.com, a website that provides information about the evidence base for nutrition and supplementation. I also do some data science work and run online experiments for Spark Wave to improve people’s psychological well being. So, if the question is about how Stoicism figures into my day-to-day work life, Stoicism helps me remain focused on my daily tasks while attempting to help others and keep a cool head (while actually sometimes succeeding!)
But if the question is about my Stoicism-specific work, I’d say that I have a few main goals. One is to help myself learn Stoicism by facilitating the New York City Stoics practice and reading groups. My main reason for starting the NYC Stoics in 2013 wasn’t because I knew much about Stoicism, but because I knew I’d learn better if I had to facilitate a group on it!
Another reason I started the NYC Stoics is that I find in-person interaction to be rewarding, and I wanted to meet more people who were into Stoicism. This idea influenced my decision to co-found The Stoic Fellowship with James Kostecka and Nick Guggenbuehl. The main goal of The Stoic Fellowship is to help Stoic groups around the world grow and connect with each other.
The final way I use Stoicism in my Stoic-related work is to try to make it more practical, practicable, and clear. That’s the aim of the projects I’ve worked on with my friend and collaborator, Massimo Pigliucci: Stoic Camp New York and A Handbook for New Stoics. It also figures into my new project: creating specialized, practical courses at Stoic Missing Pieces.
How has Stoicism affected or improved the way you live your life?
I’d say in two ways, both associated with Epictetus’ Discipline of Action. The first is that it encourages me to be more helpful to other people and take more action in the world than I may otherwise. This matters to me because I buy the Stoic argument that humans do best when we try to cooperate. Second, it helps me remember that I share the flaws I see in other people, which helps me focus more on improving myself rather than judging others. This doesn’t mean I always succeed! But it does help move me in that direction.
If you had to pick one, what would you say is the most important aspect of Stoicism?
Epictetus’ Discipline of Action. Too many people think that Stoicism’s a life hack to improve resilience and feel better. In Epictetus’ three-phase training system, that’s only the first step, though! The big reason Epictetus cares about reducing people’s passions (the subset of emotions that hamper reasoning) isn’t that they feel bad, and I doubt he’d want Stoicism to foster resilience in a vacuum (who wants a world filled with resilient assholes?). Instead, the reason to temper one’s passions is to become a better human being. Passions get in the way of that by pushing reason to the side and making us not truly care about other people. By tempering passions, Epictetus would claim you literally become more human. The only reason to become more resilient in Stoicism is to pave the way for becoming a better human being.
As an ancient philosophy, is Stoicism still just as useful and relevant in our late modern world?
Yes. Perhaps not all of it in its ancient form, since parts can use some updating and empirical scrutiny. But in some senses it may be in some senses even more relevant in our modern world for a couple of reasons.
For one, Stoicism provides a coherent philosophy of life in a world where more and more people are searching for meaning and purpose. Stoicism can help provide such people with a compass in which to guide their life.
Also, we’re much more interconnected than the ancients were thanks to modern technology. Since Stoicism has a strong focus on the interconnectedness of human beings, I think it is particularly well suited for the modern age.
Do you have a favorite Stoic passage or quote? What is it, and why is it your favorite?
I don’t have a single favorite, but one that ranks near the top for me is from Seneca’s Letter 71:
The reason we make mistakes is because we all consider the parts of life, but never life as a whole… When someone does not know what harbor they are aiming for, no wind is the right wind.
I particularly like this quote since it nicely summarizes my thoughts on why a philosophy of life is essential, and sometimes helps me take the bigger picture into account.
What topics do you plan or anticipate to talk about at Stoicon?
This year, I’ll be on the “Stoicism in Practice” panel to discuss the practical aspects of how to practice Stoicism in daily life.
Are you excited for Stoicon 2021? Is it Stoic, or not, to be “excited”?
As to your first question: Maybe temperately.
As for the second question: one has to be careful about what kind of mind/body state one’s pointing to when talking about emotions like “excitement”. Some people may have an emotion in mind that isn’t excessive, doesn’t push one’s rational faculties to the side, doesn’t turn us against our fellow human beings, doesn’t lead to strong disappointment if what one’s excited about doesn’t turn out as anticipated. These are some hallmarks of the “bad passions”, and if whatever you’re calling “excitement” doesn’t do this, then it’s not a passion that a Stoic would attempt to temper! Stoics aren’t meant to be “unfeeling like a statue”, to quote Epictetus.
Do you have anything else that you wanted to mention while we have the chance?