What does Stoicism offer the modern world?
24 Nov 2014 | Patrick Ussher
The Stoics thought that we are built for action and
Through contemplation, we can reflect on the virtues, those
qualities of character that allow us to meet life's challenges
successfully: moderation, courage, temperance and justice in our
dealings with others.
Through action, we put these qualities into practice and, in the
process, become strong amidst the whirlwind of experience. One
Stoic writer, Seneca, described this process as becoming like a
sturdy oak tree, the roots of which grow all the deeper for the
many storms it has successfully lived through.
But this is not a question of endurance. On the contrary,
Stoicism is a philosophy of proactive action: it is about meeting
the events of life well and not allowing them to crush you.
Another Stoic, the ex-slave Epictetus, used the analogy of dice:
you can't control the way the die have been cast, but you can focus
on playing each round well.
Our focus in life should be on what is 'up to us', the areas of
our life which fall into our 'ethical domain of action', and
therefore, within this domain of action, on putting into practice
the qualities that any given situation demands.
Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor (161-180 AD), put this
beautifully when he wrote:
"Every hour focus your mind attentively…on the performance of the
task in hand, with dignity, human sympathy, benevolence and
freedom, and leave aside all other thoughts."
Marcus's focus on human sympathy and benevolence tells us
something else crucial about Stoicism: its ideal of affection for
the whole community of humankind.
For the Stoics, we are all limbs of one body of humanity, in
which cultivating care and concern for one another fulfills our
natural sociability. There is no happiness, in Stoic thinking,
without relationships, and taking an active part in the welfare of
Which brings us to Stoic Week, which starts today (24th November)
and is a chance to join a large community of those interested in
what Stoicism still has to offer the modern world.
Organized by a team of psychotherapists (Stoicism was one of the
main influences on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and academics, it
offers the chance to follow a day-by-day course of modernized Stoic
advice, complete with the key precepts, morning and evening
meditations and with original Stoic passages for reflection.
Last year, around 2400 people took part and it was found that in
one week Stoicism had a 14% improvement in life satisfaction, a 9%
increase in positive emotions (with joy increasing most of all) and
an 11% decrease in negative emotions.
So, if the idea of seeing what this ancient philosophy of inner
strength and outer excellence might offer you appeals, don't miss
the opportunity to take part in Stoic Week 2014.
Patrick Ussher is part of the Stoicism Today team involved in organising the
major Stoic Week event in London on 29 November.