As we lead up to Stoicon 2021, held online again this year on October 9 (don’t forget to save the date!), we are continuing our tradition of running 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 begin with Kevin Vost, who will be one of our panelists.
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.
Hello fellow students of Stoicism. My name is Kevin Vost and I live with my wife Kathy in Springfield, Illinois. Back in the 1990s I completed a doctorate in clinical psychology from Adler University in Chicago with internship and dissertation work at the Memory and Aging Clinic of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine’s Alzheimer Center. I am retired after 32 years employment in the disability evaluation field with over a decade of adjunct teaching of psychology and gerontology at various colleges and universities, including the University of Illinois at Springfield and Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee.
I am the author of twenty-one books on psychology, philosophy, religion, and physical fitness, including The Porch and the Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christian Living and have five more books in the works at various stages right now (one of them on Stoicism, which I’ll mention at the end.)
What first interested you in, or attracted you to Stoicism?
I found out about the Stoics during my undergraduate work in psychology through my studies of the Rational Emotive Therapy of Albert Ellis and the Cognitive Therapy of Aaron Beck, both of whom openly acknowledged their debt to the Stoics and led me to read them first hand.
How does Stoicism figure into your work?
My only work for the last five years has been writing books and speaking, live, on the radio, in podcasts, TV, etc. Though my books are now contracted with various Catholic publishers, they almost all include lessons and insights with direct references to and quotations from the Stoics, like Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius. In The Catholic Guide to Loneliness, for example, I examine lessons from modern cognitive therapy and from Epictetus as means for coping with feelings of loneliness. In Fit for Eternal Life on faith and fitness I quoted Epictetus and Seneca several times for their insights on the proper relationship between care of the body and mind (and even practical tips on how to train our bodies.) I’ve written several books on the works of St. Thomas Aquinas and have spelled out time again how he has shared the insights of Seneca on issues ranging from the passion of anger, to the virtues of gratitude and clemency.
How has Stoicism affected or improved the way you live your life?
Stoicism has improved my life in many ways over the four-plus decades I’ve read them. Early on, their lessons helped me overcome shyness and an absolute dread of public speaking! They have also helped me remain calm and have usually very successfully helped me temper feelings of anxiety and depression over the years. To this day I love to read them and books about them, because I find them so informative, entertaining, and inspiring.
If you had to pick one, what would you say is the most important aspect of Stoicism?
I’m going to cheat just a bit here and dip into two (or three) very briefly. For decades I would have said it is how they teach us to control our negative emotions. Over the years I’ve grown more to appreciate their pursuit of virtues, and most specifically how helpful they can be in another issue of vital importance, which I’ll address in the next answer.
As an ancient philosophy, is Stoicism still just as useful and relevant in our late modern world?
I think it is every bit as useful and relevant today as it ever was. There have certainly been scientific advances that call in to question (at least) some of their conceptions of how the universe operates, but I don’t believe human nature has changed much since then, in terms of the ways our reason, emotions, and behaviors operate. Further, today it seems we have so many more things to potentially distract and upset us that their lessons of inner tranquility may be more important than ever. Finally, and here is that last vital issue I alluded to, when there is so much polarization of opinion in our world, and vilification of those who hold opposing views, I think the Stoics can teach us invaluable lessons in remaining calm and trying to reason with others instead of silencing or bashing them, keeping in mind that right or wrong in our view, the opinions and behaviors of others somehow make sense to them.
Do you have a favorite Stoic passage or quote? What is it, and why is it your favorite?
I have several favorites, from Seneca’s elegant bon mots on the invincibility of philosophy to Aurelius’ morning exercise to remind ourselves that we will meet with a variety of unsavory characters each day, but we need to remember that we are all here to cooperate. Still, rather than hedging any further, I’ll cite Epictetus from the Handbook chapter 5:
People are disturbed not by things, but by the judgments they make about things.
This is the powerful passage I encountered early on through the cognitive therapists and it hasn’t lost its power for me.
What topics do you plan or anticipate to talk about at Stoicon?
I’ll be on a panel, and will look forward to any sort of question or comment (not that I’ll necessarily be able to answer or address them very well.)
Are you excited for Stoicon 2021? Is it Stoic, or not, to be “excited”?
At the fear of excommunication, I will answer “Yes!” I think excitement about an event like this should qualify as eupathia, a good passion or emotion. I very much look forward to meeting (even if virtually) and learning from other Stoics. Of course, I’ll still employ the “reserve clause,” and if things don’t turn out as expected, that will be OK too. I was excited to I talk at the Stoicon-X Milwaukee in 2019 (you can watch the video here), and I woke in my hotel room to a completely flat car tire, but I still made it to the talk on time. Moreover, the building was cleared by a fire alarm in the middle of a later speaker’s talk. Still, overall, I thought the day was a smashing success!)
Do you have anything else that you wanted to mention while we have the chance?
Yes. Thank you for the opportunity! I’m also excited to report that I just got in the illustrations yesterday for a new book that combines my psychological specialization in the area of memory strategies with my love of the Stoics. Tentatively titled Memorize the Stoics! The Ancient Art of Memory Meets the Timeless Art of Living, it will feature a guided tutorial aimed at the memorization (and contemplation) of key lessons from all 53 of Epictetus’ Handbook chapters, the first 50 of Seneca’s Letters, as well as “seven golden maxims” culled from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. I’ve written the first draft and it’s due for publication by Angelico Press in February, 2022.
Kevin Vost is the author of twenty-one books including Memorize the Faith! and The Porch and the Cross. He is currently working on a new book – How to Think Like Epictetus (And Memorize His Handbook!) that will employ and flesh out this method.