The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless. Below is an extract from an article on Stoicism.
In every culture we know of, whether it be secular or religious, cosmopolitan or tribal, the question of how to live is central. How should we handle life’s challenges and vicissitudes? How should we conduct ourselves in the world and treat others? And the ultimate question: how do we best prepare to die?
For my part, I’ve recently become a Stoic. I do not mean that I have started keeping a stiff upper lip and suppressing my emotions. As much as I love the “Star Trek” character of Mr. Spock (which Gene Roddenberry actually modeled after his — mistaken — understanding of Stoicism), those are two of a number of misconceptions about what it means to be a Stoic. In reality, practicing Stoicism is not really that different from, say, practicing Buddhism (or even certain forms of modern Christianity): it is a mix of reflecting on theoretical precepts, reading inspirational texts, and engaging in meditation, mindfulness, and the like.
Stoicism is the philosophical root of a number of evidence-based psychological therapies, including Victor Frankl’s logotherapy and C.B.T.
I’m not alone. Thousands of people, for instance, participated in the third annual Stoic Week, a worldwide philosophy event cum social science experiment organized by a team at the University of Exeter, in England. The goal of Stoic Week is twofold: on the one hand, to get people to learn about Stoicism and how it can be relevant to their lives; on the other hand, to collect systematic data to see whether practicing Stoicism actually does make a difference to people’s lives.
Stoicism was born in Hellenistic Greece, very much as a practical philosophy, one that became popular during the Roman Empire,and that vied over centuries for cultural dominance with the other Greek schools. Eventually, Christianity emerged, and actually incorporated a number of concepts and even practices of Stoicism. Even today, the famous Serenity Prayer recited at Alcoholic Anonymous meetings is an incarnation of a Stoic principle enunciated by Epictetus: “What, then, is to be done? To make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it naturally happens.” (“Discourses”)