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Elizabeth Smith: Stoicism and School Aged Children

Elizabeth Smith says she “creates curriculum and plays games – in an incredible learning environment – inspired and blessed daily by the most amazing children.” She works with children ages five to twelve, through the US Navy’s Child and Youth Program (CYP).

Elizabeth is a sculptor, illustrator, and has worked as an International Baccalaureate (IB) middle school teacher, teaching the subjects of art, reading, and approaches to learning. During her first-year teaching, she created an Art History/Art Program for 760 students (Grades K-5). She has an M.Ed. in Cross Cultural Teaching, holds a Professional Clear Multiple Subject Teaching Credential and a Supplementary Authorization in Art. For fun, she writes and illustrates children’s books.

Elizabeth also graduated from San Diego State University where she earned a BA in Art/Applied Design, with an emphasis on metalwork and jewelry design. She trained under artists Arline Fisch and Helen Shirk. She currently resides in California and is “the proud mother of a true artist.”

How did you become interested in Stoic philosophy?

I was introduced to philosophy through Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. As an art major, one of my favorite courses was on Ancient Roman Art History. I found the subject exciting, eccentric, and entertaining. I later found myself intrigued – and equally entertained – by Epictetus and Seneca. Stoicism touches my heart and calms my mind – it serves as an owner’s manual for operating one’s brain, and a light for finding one’s humanity.  

I am extremely interested in Stoicism. I am especially interested in the profound and unexpected way Stoicism has influenced the children I teach. I am interested in the impact Stoicism – if introduced to children at an early age – could potentially play in the positive development of humanity. 

To answer your question, I became interested in philosophy while playing on the playground.

I believe by introducing children to Stoicism at an early age – through play and recreation – we will find our children’s behavior positively shaped, and their character exude wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance.  

Elizabeth Smith

What is the most important idea that you promote through your work?

Young children benefit from learning about and practicing Stoicism in social settings. Children learn through play. I believe by introducing children to Stoicism at an early age – through play and recreation – we will find our children’s behavior positively shaped, and their character exude wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance.  

I work for the federal government serving military dependents, ages five to twelve. This summer, I created and implemented the nine-week camp program, Summer with the Stoics. As with much of our programing, this program was youth inspired. 

When I started teaching Stoicism to the youth, it was by accident. 

I find it important for the youth to see their teachers (adults in general) reading for enjoyment and recreation. Modeling my own enjoyment, I was reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, Epictetus’ Discourses, and Donald Robertson’s book, How to Think Like a Roman Emperor. As the children and I would sit outside, leisurely reading, they began to ask me questions about the books I read. When I told them about Marcus Aurelius they were instantly hooked. Fascinated by the ideas the books contained, some children would ask if they could take my books home to keep – despite their inability to read. I began to act out scenes from the books for the children. The children joined in – they were beyond intrigued.   

One day at snack time, two boys were debating over an issue and unable to come to an agreement, when a third student {called X, age 7) looked towards my direction and asked, “What would Marcus Aurelius do?” I could not contain my surprise and replied, “He would probably bake you a plate of warm cookies because you just melted your teacher’s heart.” His smile was priceless, as was this inspiration. The children were giving me so many inspirational moments, due to their interest in the Stoics, I began creating games. 

Sculpture of Marcus Aurelius as a youth

I had to create the games, activities, and program. The type of Stoicism program I was looking for did not exist. Not finding anything online, and looking for guidance, I contacted two of my favorite philosophers, Donald Robertson and Massimo Pigliucci. Each confirmed that Stoicism resources for children were limited. Still determined, I began looking for something exciting, eccentric, and entertaining. 

I found what I was looking for out on the playground. 

Children learn through play, as well as meaningful social interactions with peers and adults. They are social beings searching for wisdom and are naturally at one with nature. Children are open minded, enthusiastic, and receptive. Our program’s youth have taken to Stoicism not just because they love a good game of Zeno Tag, enjoy having philosophical conversations, or are excited about the Marcus Aurelius Fan Club’s Friday raffle…They have taken to Stoicism because it is useful for navigating life on the playground. 

The practice of Stoicism enhances resiliency and develops strength of character. Through the philosophy of Stoicism, the children have learned to observe their playground problems from a different view – the view from above (one of their favorite practices). They ease the pain of an injury by noting that it is only a small part of their body that is hurt – not their whole body.  In the morning, some youth find the courage to face their day by practicing Marcus Aurelius’ morning ritual… preparing themselves for the types of people they may encounter on the playground. Some children, during a fierce game of dodge ball, find it helpful to utilize the same anger management strategies as their favorite Roman emperor. 

Through daily practice, analyzing social situations, and humorous interactive games, such as – The Dichotomy of Control – with YOUR Host Epictetus, our youth have developed an amazing grasp for what is inside and outside of their control.

To introduce the dichotomy of control, I walked around the playground with several thumbs up/thumbs down paddles. As I came upon children experiencing some type of conflict, I would point out what was inside of our control and what was outside of our control. A common frustration for many, “They don’t want to play with me!”

While addressing this concern, I immediately take out a thumbs up/thumbs down paddle and say, “Welcome to your favorite gameshow The Dichotomy of Control – with YOUR Host Epictetus – guest staring Rosey Rose (age 6)” At this point, upon hearing the intro, many children approached to join the game. I gave all the children paddles. “Rosey Rose’s friend does not what to play with her. Is that inside or outside of Rosey Rose’s control?”

Many children, including Rosey Rose, flipped their paddle to the thumbs down.  “That’s right, boys and girls. What people think about us, their opinions, what they say about us…IF they want to play with us – is OUTSIDE of our control. And because it is outside of our control, we are not going to spend a lot of time and energy worrying about it – WE are going to focus on what is INSIDE of our control.”

At this point of the game the children start offering suggestions, while using the thumbs upside of the paddle, “Yes! Looking for other friends to play with is INSIDE of Rosey Rose’s control.” 

We have a second version of the game where we call a guest up to the front of the group to act out a scenario. “Welcome, Glitter Sparkle (I have let the children choose their own fake names for my writing purposes) I am so glad you have joined me on this trip to Disneyland. What ride shall we go on first?” At this point, I asked the audience, and Glitter Sparkle, if this decision is inside or outside of her control. The children answered by using the paddles. We continued our journey encountering long lines and ride closures. As a group we explore what is inside and outside of our control in the Magic Kingdom. 

The children love these games. The games have eased their perceptions regarding disappointment, intense social situations, and future expectations. As they navigate the playground, practicing an awareness for Stoicism, the dichotomy of control has empowered the children to focus their attention on their choices and actions rather than their feelings of disappointment. 

The children now use this thought process effortlessly. A fellow teacher reported to me that Bismarck (the 7-year-old boy – not the German battleship) had approached her asking to join her cookie project. The teacher had to tell Bismarck that the activity had just finished. She did not expect Bismarck to take the news well, as he loves cookies.  Instead, Bismarck replied, “Ok. That’s outside of my control.” Calm as could be Bismarck set sail to find another activity. 

Another little girl, Jennanana (age 6), hurt her finger in the Marcus Moments raffle prize box, “Ooooutside my control. It’s ok it’s just my finger that hurts not my whole body.”  I have had other children report their injures in this way as well.  Very interesting.    

Summer with the Stoics was an eye-opening experience. I learned through our many philosophical discussions, and games, that children crave philosophy – specifically Stoicism. Despite their young age, children can contribute to the field of philosophy through their philosophical insights, energy, and unique observations. This summer I witnessed children as young as six years old practicing Stoicism with more recall, flow, consistency, and enthusiasm than most adults. I see them for the children they are – but I also see them for the adults they will soon become. I would like for those future adults to have had an upbringing in Stoicism. Not just for the quality of their own lives – but for the sake of humanity. 

Military youth (dependents) often grow up to serve in the military. I see a certain percentage of my children as potential military officers, politicians, world leaders, and policy makers. Mick Mulroy (Senior Fellow for the Middle East Institute, ABC News National Security Analyst, and a co-founder of the Lobo Institute) and Donald Roberson have spoken – as well as written – extensively on the importance of teaching Stoicism and its place in the U.S. military. They write, “The U.S. military must inject this concept of wisdom, and flexible thinking, at the earliest possible stage.” I absolutely agree, and the earliest possible stage is childhood not bootcamp. Children are flexible. Their brains are built for Stoicism. Marcus Aurelius was proof.

“That is inside of your control. You can take good care of yourself, make good choices…Make your life last longer. You can try. Trying is inside of your control. Good idea. But what happens if the freezer gets unplugged or the electricity goes out?”

The children thought this was funny. “The ice cream melts.”

“Just like life.” many added; that it was outside of our control and that’s ok.  

What do you think is the best piece of practical advice we could give to our children to help them through the rest of life?

Practice the four virtues while embracing the dichotomy of control. 

Through games and storytelling this advice is well received by the youth in our program. The four virtues serve as our center’s rules and are reinforced by our Marcus Moments incentive program.

A Marcus Moment is much more than a raffle ticket. It is a moment for self-reflection, appreciation, and pride. With every ticket given we explain to the receiving youth that Marcus Aurelius had many moments in life, as they do, where he practiced -or had to call upon – the four virtues (wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance). Each ticket lists the four virtues. There is space provided on the ticket to write the child’s name, brief description of child’s action/situation, circle the virtue(s), and for the giver to sign their name. The Marcus Aurelius Fan Club (which was started by a child while I was on a lunch break) holds a weekly Friday Marcus Moment Raffle. For each ticket drawn, we read the virtue(s) and description out loud to the group prior to announcing the winner’s name. We post the Marcus Moments on the wall as they are earned. Throughout the week – the wall gets fuller – children love looking at the Marcus Moments on the wall.   

We use Marcus Moments not only to celebrate desirable actions, but for redirection. Two children might be having a disagreement, “Wow, it looks like you both are having a Marcus Moment.” At this point the children are made aware that the moment they are experiencing – regardless of the perceived difficulty – can be addressed through their actions/the four virtues. We have had such success with this form of redirection. Some children need only to hear a virtue gently mentioned and they immediately pause to self-reflect. French Toast (age 8) responds well to the word temperance. This word serves as a subtle reminder for French Toast to be mindful with his friends when Lego domination starts to occur in the building area. 

Youth often come up to tell me, “I had a Marcus Moment just now…” and not just because they would like a raffle ticket but because they wish to discuss the details of their moment. Other children have pointed out Marcus Moments occurring in movies we’ve watched, and the books we’ve read. The children love looking for Marcus Moments. With that said, the children give Marcus Moment tickets to their friends and teachers. 

A “practical advice for life” art project the children really enjoyed was an art installation we created as a group, Epictetus Dichotomy of Control Ice Cream Sundae Party.  Working with three children at a time, each child made a fake ice cream sundae. I stared off by giving each youth a clear plastic dessert cup. “This cup is your life. I know it is your life because I just wrote your name on the bottom with a Sharpie. In life you have control over your wishes, hopes, and desires – the syrup.”

The youth were encouraged to use the chocolate and strawberry syrups (acrylic paints) to coat the inside of their cups. They would ask me how and I would reply, “Anyway you would like. These are your hopes and dreams… it’s in your control.” Right as they were just getting going, I would interrupt their process and fill their cups with white caulking foam spray. “Your life will be filled with things outside of your control. That’s the ice cream. Maybe you don’t like vanilla. Maybe you were hoping for chocolate. This is outside of your control.”

The children began talking about their favorite flavors of ice cream. A few children said vanilla ice cream was their favorite. I congratulated them, “That’s wonderful. Sometimes things that are outside of our control turn out to be exactly what we wanted.” Others did not like vanilla ice cream. I pointed out to them, “The ice cream is outside of your control – so we will not be spending time worrying about what is outside of our control. What is inside of your control?” The youth then made the connection, seeing assorted glitter bottles and beads. They replied, “The toppings!” I commended them, “Yes. Those are your choices, your actions… the four virtues.” 

After they were finished with their toppings, I presented the youth with plastic spoons, “This spoon is your philosophy, without it life could get messy. You will want to make sure to put your philosophy deep into your life.” The children carefully placed their spoons deep into their sundaes. Daboss (age 9), asked that she receive three spoons because she wanted a lot of philosophy. I gave them all fake plastic cherries to place on top, telling them the thing you value most in life is the cherry – it goes on top. Many of the children said the cherry was their family, a talent, or a hope. 

Their sundaes were still changing and expanding because of the foam. They were surprised to see their sundaes were looking so different from what they expected. I assured them that this was nature – everything changes. I asked them, “What happens to ice cream?”

“It melts,” they replied. “Yep, that’s the nature of ice cream. That’s what it does. What should you do with ice cream?”

They all knew what to do with the ice cream, “Eat it up!”

“Yes. Just like life. Enjoy it. Eat it up.”, I advised.  I then added a twist, “What if you want the ice cream to last longer – what could you do?” They suggested that the ice cream be put in the freezer.  I told them that was an excellent idea, “That is inside of your control. You can take good care of yourself, make good choices…Make your life last longer. You can try. Trying is inside of your control. Good idea. But what happens if the freezer gets unplugged or the electricity goes out?”

The children thought this was funny. “The ice cream melts.”

“Just like life.” many added; that it was outside of our control and that’s ok.  

The ice cream sundaes were displayed on a large birthday party looking table. Red plates were set with Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius quotes written on them, as well as the philosophical description of our sundaes. Photos of the children with messy whipped cream faces were placed next to their sundaes. The table had balloons and bright colored party hats. The children had fun showing their parents the Epictetus art installation at our art gala.  

Stoicism is more than a philosophy or a way of life. It is common ground. In this world, we need common ground.  

Elizabeth Smith

We have been following your progress over the summer, the work you are doing is inspirational. Now that Summer with the Stoics has ended, and the school year is upon us what are your plans?

Thank you, I appreciate your interest.

Next up – School Year with the Stoics, of course. I am also working on creating Stoicism curriculum in the hopes that we can have our curriculum implemented throughout Navy CYP. That would be a dream come true. I am working with Donald Robertson, with the goal of providing the high standard of trainings required to bring our Navy CYP professionals onboard. Donald Robertson’s contributions to the fields of philosophy, cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as his work with the military (Stoicism – resiliency trainings) make him the best choice for bringing this goal forward. 

When I consider 45,000 youth are served by my place of employment… I see an exceptional opportunity to bring the benefits of Stoicism to a diverse population of people – our children, families (service men and women), and childcare professionals.  Stoicism is admirable in the eyes of the right, as well as the eyes of the left. Stoicism does not offend the religious nor insult the agnostic. Stoicism is more than a philosophy or a way of life. It is common ground. In this world, we need common ground.  

In the fields of education and youth programing, the recent spotlight has been on STEM. The fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics have actively increased their outreach efforts in the desire to attract children to these fields. Universities, tech companies, and STEM related professionals are addressing a widespread future concern for establishing a workforce, highly proficient and dominant, in the STEM fields. The countries with such workforces will secure relevance. It’s like the space race but with children. 

With technology and science progressing at an exponential rate it is crucial we use Stoicism to develop our children’s minds so as they can ethically handle complex responsibilities and navigate a future world of rapid change. They will need resiliency… The four virtues are essential. Now is the time for the field of philosophy to follow the lead of the STEM fields and seriously focus on youth outreach.  

Do you have a favorite philosophy quote?

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.

Seneca

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about the work you are doing?

Put down the philosophy books and play. Take what you have learned throughout your study of Stoicism and creatively apply to all recreational opportunities that you may encounter. 

To learn more about my work – games and activities – I am in the process of writing, Zeno Tag: A Stoic’s Guide to the Playground.

Suppose you were able to give a talk or workshop at the original location of Plato’s Academy, how would you feel about that?

Beyond thrilled. Without a doubt it would be a privilege and an honor.  What an amazing and beautiful space to contemplate humanity and engage in a fierce game of Zeno Tag. So many wonderful people discussing incredible ideas, while wearing running shoes…or barefoot.  How fun.   

Jonas Salzgeber: Hey, Equanimity

Jonas Salzgeber is the author of The Little Book of Stoicism. He advocates an applied, self-reflective, and alterable life philosophy. He enjoys quiet time with a good cup of coffee, swimming in vast waters, and being around loving human beings.

How did you become interested in this area?

Through life itself. 

As a young adult, I became interested in learning how to live well. How to make the best with the given circumstances. How to install healthy habits in order to improve my sleep quality, energy level, and athleticism. 

Further, I developed this ideal of a well-balanced, calm spirit. My three brothers used to tease and test me – and whenever I reacted and became irritated, they’d say, “Hey, equanimity.” 

Specifically my youngest brother was (and still is) best able to get me out of the calm, equanimous spirit. I learned to take him as a teacher who’s testing me and thus helping me practice my equanimity. 

So, I became interested in philosophy without calling it this way. And it was this interest in learning how to live well that lead me to reading books, and through such books I stumbled upon the highly resonating Stoic philosophy.

What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people?

Currently, it’s practice makes perfect. 

If you don’t put what you learn into practice, you’ll forget it. Or rather, you haven’t really learned it. We only truly learn if we apply something in real life. Whether it’s baking a bread, swinging a kettlebell, or accepting a challenging life situation. 

Yes, we might get a decent understanding of something in theory, but if we fail to put it into practice, we won’t really understand it. It’s something life has taught me again and again – probably because I haven’t really understood it. 😉

I believe this is an important idea because it’s something people forget about. People like to listen to podcasts, read new books, and watch videos, but fail to move to the most important step – to put what they learn into action. 

So, what’s something you want to put into practice? Good. Now stop reading and go do it.

 Do you respond by expressing your highest Self or do you fall short and do or say something that’s not according to your innermost truth?

Jonas Salzgeber

What do you think is the most important piece of practical advice that we can derive from your work?

The Stoic Happiness Triangle. It gives a simple and visual overview of Stoicism, is easy to remember, and actionable. 

At the center is the Stoic goal of life: Eudaimonia. For me, it simply means to flourish in life. That’s the goal. The Greek word directly translates as being good (eu) with your inner daimon, your soul, your highest Self. Basically, if you live in harmony with your highest Self, you’ll flourish in life.

How to get there? By living with Aretê. For me, this means to express your highest Self in every moment. You live according to your innermost truth, to your values, moment to moment to moment. 

Now, expressing your highest Self in every moment can be challenging. That’s why the Stoics’ core principle comes in handy: Focus on what you control and accept the rest as it happens. You want to learn to accept what is, and make the best given the circumstances. For the Stoics, everything that is beyond your control is ultimately indifferent. Only what you do with it matters. Basically, you focus on expressing your highest Self despite the challenging life situation.

The third corner of the Stoic Happiness Triangle is to take responsibility. It comes with a twofold meaning. First, you are responsible for flourishing in your life because what matters is not what happens but what you do with it, and that’s precisely what’s within your control. Second, you are response-able as you have the ability to choose your response to any given outside situation. This is your responsibility: By challenging you with a certain situation, life is asking you, “How do you respond?” Do you respond by expressing your highest Self or do you fall short and do or say something that’s not according to your innermost truth?

That’s the Stoic Happiness Triangle in a nutshell. You can find out more in The Little Book of Stoicism or in this article.

Basically, that’s what Stoicism is all about. Being mindful of yourself, your values, your thoughts & behaviors, then being self-reflective to gain a deeper understanding of yourself, your values, your thoughts & behaviors, and then take responsibility and live accordingly. And repeat.

…yes, understanding the theory behind the action enables one to speak, but it is the practice that enables one to act. And thus, practice is more important than theory.

Jonas Salzgeber

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

Suppose there are two men, one of whom has sailed many times and has already piloted many boats, and the other of whom has sailed few times and has never been a pilot. Suppose the one who has never been a pilot can speak very fluently about the theory of navigation, and suppose the other speaks poorly and incoherently. Which would you hire as pilot if you were sailing?

The one who has been a pilot many times.

Musonius Rufus, Lecture 5

There are many quotes from the Stoics that I like. This one from Musonius Rufus fits the topic, practice makes perfect, really well.

He told his student that, yes, understanding the theory behind the action enables one to speak, but it is the practice that enables one to act. And thus, practice is more important than theory.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about what you do?

You can find countless articles on Stoicism, procrastination, and positive psychology and book summaries on my brother Nils’ and my blog NJlifehacks

You can read The Little Book of Stoicism and you can subscribe to our emails newsletter – we write around one email per week about what we find most valuable 😊 

If you subscribe, you’ll get a PDF with 20 Stoic practices – let’s put what we learn into practice.

We’re not into social media, so you won’t find us there.

Suppose you were able to give a talk or workshop at the original location of Plato’s Academy, in Athens. How would you feel about that?

Honored. Excited. Talking with people about a topic with mutual interest is most fun 😊

Erlend D. MacGillivray: Epictetus and the Lay People

Dr. Erlend D. MacGillivray gained his PhD from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. During his time at Aberdeen, he was an academic tutor in New Testament Studies, early Church history, and Greco-Roman history, and also helped to coordinate the Divinity school’s distance learning program. In 2015 he was a visiting Professor of New Testament Exegesis at Asian Theological Seminary in Manila. He is published in academic journals such as Journal of Greco-Roman Judaism and Christianity, Novum Testamentum, Journal of Ancient History, The Ancient World, and Apeiron.

His critically acclaimed book Epictetus and Laypeople: A Stoic Stance toward Non-Stoics explores the understanding that ancient philosophers had towards the vast majority of people at the time, those who had no philosophical knowledge or adherence—laypeople. After exploring how philosophical identity was established in antiquity, this book examines the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, who reflected upon laypeople with remarkable frequency.

How did you become interested in this area?

I came to study ancient philosophy as a historian. Initially, I wrote academic articles on various aspects of Roman society, especially the patron-client relationship. I was planning to complete a doctorate related to the topic but I had an epiphany of sorts. Scholars usually try to write on an area, or a perspective that has not been fully explored. Ancient philosophy was, I realized, one such area. Although the teachings of the philosophical schools have understandably been studied at length, ancient philosophy was more than just a series of intellectual commitments and doctrines. It was also a social movement. Ancient philosophers exhibited the attributes of a community. This aspect of ancient philosophy though has not received much attention.

I became particularly interested in what we could know about the demographics of ancient philosophy. Who was attracted to it? What segments of society were exposed to various levels of philosophical teaching? How did philosophical allegiance change over time and why? These are, I believe, fascinating questions, but they are rarely explored by historians in great depth.

To cut a long story short I started studying the Epicurean school. That resulted in my writing two peer-reviewed journal articles on the philosophy: one on how popular Epicureanism was in Late-Republican Rome, and another on how Epicureanism, rather distinctively, tried to spread its philosophy across ancient society and to reach relatively unlettered people. After that, I had to make a decision. Either keep exploring this topic and write a book on the Epicurean school or take the same sets of questions and look at a different school. I chose the latter and I decided to explore the philosophy of the Stoa. That was, I am pleased to say, a successful research project and it led to my writing the book Epictetus and Laypeople.

Our broader culture does little to let people know that ancient philosophy explores issues that they are interested in, e.g., who should have power in a state, how do I establish what is true…?

Dr. Erlend McGillivary

What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people?

For the past few years, I have taught students ancient philosophy as part of a wider ancient history course. We read through parts of Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Nicomedian Ethics, and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. There are a couple of important ideas I want to impress upon them. Firstly, the value that ancient philosophy has. Often, they have the preconception that ancient philosophy is a needlessly obscure, pointless, arcane subject. Were these texts not assigned as part of a curriculum I doubt they would have ever have picked them up. Our broader culture does little to let people know that ancient philosophy explores issues that they are interested in, e.g., who should have power in a state, how do I establish what is true, what should my guiding principles in life be, is there a creator, how can I control my temper? I’ve never met a student who isn’t interested in exploring at least one of these questions.

The main concepts I teach them is that whatever issue they want to consider, search and see. They might very well tap into a rich stream of philosophical insight about the topic. Secondly, for more academic circles I think my work’s emphasis on viewing ancient philosophy as a social movement is an important one. The schools have fascinating histories that are still to be fully uncovered and detailed.

…make sure that your reasons for studying ancient philosophy are not just purely intellectual ones.

Dr. Erlend McGillivary

What do you think is the most important piece of practical advice that we
can derive from your work?

Most ancient philosophers were very aware that people might approach philosophy just to look or sound smart. Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher from the first-second century C.E., continually scolds his listeners if he thinks they are just there for intellectual reasons. For example, to one such onlooker, he said: “Why do you dress in a philosopher’s garment that is not yours, and walk around in it, as thieves and robbers who have stolen titles and properties that do not belong to them?” Diss. II.19.28. The point I would make, which other scholars/writers on ancient philosophy have made better than I have (and organizations such as Plato’s Academy do) would be to make sure that your reasons for studying ancient philosophy are not just purely intellectual ones.

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?


A quote that I often tell myself is from a well-regarded first-century philosopher in Rome named Musonius Rufus. To paraphrase he said that “what is difficult to achieve will endure and the discomfort will pass, what you do with pleasure and dishonour, the pleasure will pass but the dishonour will remain.” His advice holds not just for hard work involving our careers but anything that requires effort or nurture to flourish. Be that our occupations, our family life, hobbies etc.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about
what you do?

At the moment probably the best place to find my work is from my academia.edu page. It has many of my articles that are free to read. My book on Epictetus is also thankfully now out in paperback, so it is more readily available to the general public. I’m also co-writing a workbook on logical fallacies which is aimed at high schoolers.

My next big project though is a popular-level book on Epictetus and his world. My aim is to use my knowledge as someone with an interest in Roman history to provide greater context to his lectures and to help readers feel they know him and his world better. For example, the place where he taught, Nicopolis, is one of the largest archaeological sites in Greece. We can actually visit some of the buildings that he references. Some types of coins he mentions in passing that are fairly obscure we have examples of etc. So, for anyone interested in what I am doing I would say wait for that to come out.

Suppose you were able to give a talk or workshop at the original location
of Plato’s Academy, in Athens.

I would be honoured! When I was a PhD student, I was fortunate to spend some time in the British School in Athens. It is fairly close to the Lyceum where various philosophers used to gather, the most famous being Aristotle. It was enthralling to be there. I really felt though that the sites of the schools, e.g. the Lyceum, the Academy, the Stoa, should be more utilized and highlighted. They seemed rather forgotten about, almost ignored and over- grown. I think what Plato’s Academy is doing is wonderful!

Francis Gasparini: Inspiring Change

Francis Gasparini has been a writer for more than 30 years and has worked with Karen “Duff” Duffy for most of that time. With Duff, he’s written the New York Times bestseller “Model Patient”, “Backbone,” and now “Wise Up.” He’s also had extensive experience in documentary film and television.  He has worked with documentarians including Michael Moore, RJ Cutler, Davis Guggenheim, Fernando Andrade, and Ryan White; Gasparini’s films have premiered at Sundance and SXSW.  He lives in Los Angeles with his wife
Jennifer Wise, daughter Maria Lucia, and a crazy dog named Petunia.

How did you become interested in this area?

I came to it through my collaboration with my writing partner, Karen Duffy, aka Duff. Stoicism has always been a part of her life and it’s been a part of our work from the beginning, but it really flowered with our latest book, “Wise Up.” I don’t consider myselfany kind of expert in Stoicism, but I approach it in the way I make documentary films—my writing with Duff is an opportunity to learn about something that engages me and apply my craft to it.

What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people?

I mean the dichotomy of control is the beginning middle and end of it, isn’t it? But Duff and I are now working on a new project inspired in part by Marcus Aurelius’ words “Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.” Broadly speaking, we’re looking to inspire people to take action and make changes. Some people make fun of this line as being tautological and I understand that criticism, but I choose to interpret it as “Stop dithering and act on what you already know!” Useful advice at any time.

What do you think is the most important piece of practical advice that we can derive from your work?

When I write with Duff, I often access an almost ecstatic sense of celebrating life and its possibilities, and I hope that comes across to readers. Yes, life is hard and has more than its share of disappointments and cruelty and sadness, but there is always also beauty and joy. I hope that we’ve been able to communicate that Stoicism is a practical way to recognize and embrace those beautiful aspects of life.

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

Epictetus’ maxim “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” This comes up a lot with my daughter, who is 15. As a nascent adult she runs across a lot of situations that aren’t ideal and we’ve always encouraged her to take action in response rather than accept them or just complain. Without getting into detail, she just had an unpleasant experience and took it upon herself to take action. She’s understood that she can’t change what happened, nor should she wallow in emotion—but she can take action in response. I was really proud to see her exercise the control she could in a pretty tough situation and thrilled to see how confident she was in herself.


Karen Duffy & Francis Gasparini – Wising Up

Control how you respond—and maybe that response is “this cruelly phrased criticism is actually valid.”

Francis Gasparini

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about what you do?

When it comes to writing, the most banal but truest advice is that you learn by doing, over and over and over and over. I was a creative writing major in college, which was extremely useful in that it gave me an outlet to write a lot and get a lot of bad writing out of my system. Needless to say, you don’t need to study creative writing in college to write a lot and hone your craft, but it did give me a structure. Also, the absolute pettiness and bottomless factionalism of zero-consequences college writing seminars helped me develop a thick skin about what I knew was good.

Another thing that helped was many years of writing for television, in which no one cares about your feelings or how hard you worked on something, it either works (for someone else!) or it doesn’t. I don’t think you need to suffer through all of that to be a good writer, but you do need to learn how to take criticism and distinguish what’s worth listening to. The dichotomy of control comes into play here too! Control how you respond—and maybe that response is “this cruelly phrased criticism is actually valid.”

Suppose you were able to give a talk or workshop at the original location of Plato’s Academy, in Athens. How would you feel about that?

Um, overwhelmed and unworthy? The serious answer is that I’d be excited to talk about my creative process and how Stoicism has come to inform it. I write in collaboration with Duff. There is a great deal of tapping on the keyboard, but the most important part of the work is the lively discussion of what we want to say, what the Stoics say on the subject, and what crazy anecdote perfectly illustrates what we’re trying to communicate. In Stoic
terms, we never run into “writer’s block.” We rethink, we ruminate, we shoot the breeze, we digress, and in the end, as Marcus Aurelius says, “What stands in the way becomes
the way.”

Gregory Lopez: Discussing vs. Practicing

Gregory Lopez is the co-author of Live Like a Stoic and A Handbook for New Stoics. He is also founder and facilitator of the New York City Stoics Meetup, and cofounder and board member of The Stoic Fellowship. In addition, he is a Modern Stoicism board member and co-facilitates Stoic Camp New York with Massimo Pigliucci. He is also lead editor for Examine.com and editor in chief of the Examine Research Digest.

How did you become interested in this area?

I first got into philosophy the same way a lot of American moody ex-religious high schoolers do: through Ayn Rand, Nietzsche, and Russell’s Why I am not a Christian. While that’s pretty stereotypical, trying to think more deeply about religion led to my interest in learning more about logic and epistemology: it’s one thing to roll one’s eyes at things like Anselm’s ontological argument, but it’s another to figure out where it may be going awry and –importantly — why

My philosophical interests were further bolstered when taking a year-long introduction to humanities course on ancient Greek and Roman culture in college and continued through a few optional courses on metaphysics and the philosophy of science along with some Chinese philosophy during a Chinese humanities class. 

However, much of this was theoretical at the end of the day. My interests in practical philosophy formed from two confluent sources. 

The first was discussing Buddhist philosophy with a friend. I didn’t have much initial interest in Buddhism because of my initial impression that it required too much metaphysical baggage to be of use to those who didn’t buy into it. But discussion, reading, and taking a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course convinced me that it was indeed practical.

The second source of my interest in the more practical aspects of philosophy came from looking for some rewarding volunteer work. I came across SMART Recovery, which helps people apply techniques from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to addictive behaviors, whether they involve a substance or not. SMART Recovery leans heavily on one of the original forms of CBT created by Albert Ellis: Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). I learned that REBT was heavily inspired by Stoicism. I read some Seneca back in college alongside Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and several works of Plato, but I realized that I didn’t know a whole lot about Stoicism, so I decided to look for resources.

During that search, I stumbled upon some people on the internet who were attempting to practice Stoicism in today’s world. However, there wasn’t much going on in the way of in-person learning and practice. My desire to learn more about Stoicism and how it can be practiced combined with the lack of in-person groups led me to found the New York City Stoics in 2013, and ultimately to co-found The Stoic Fellowship to help foster Stoic groups worldwide as well as to co-author a book on Stoic practice.

You are not everything that goes on in your head. 

Gregory Lopez

What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people?

You are not everything that goes on in your head. 

From a Stoic perspective, there is only one small part of your mind that you completely control, which Epictetus calls prohairesis. Actually, it’s not quite accurate to even say that “you” control this part of your mind: instead, this part of the mind is you. Everything else is not you. 

When making this point, Epictetus often points to physical examples of what’s not you, like your hair or body, or sometimes external things like reputation or things you own. However, Stoic doctrine clearly implies that other aspects of your mind are also not necessarily you, including impressions (phantasiai; which I describe as your first feelings and thoughts about a matter that come up automatically) and proto-passions (propatheiai; the first stirrings of unhealthy emotions). These things go on in your head, but are not under your control. Instead, Stoic practice primarily — if not exclusively — consists in recognizing, analyzing, and questioning impressions and proto-passions that come up and then countering them using conscious and intentional, conscious thought and action that is consistent with believing that virtue is the only good. So the automatic stuff that pops up in your head doesn’t define you because it’s not you: instead, it’s grist for the mill of Stoic practice. 

And practice does not necessarily make perfect! Only the perfect Stoic practitioner (the sage) succeeds in working with their impressions and proto-passions every time, so Stoic practitioners will occasionally (or in my case: frequently!) screw this up. But Stoics realize that being a perfect practitioner is extremely difficult, if not impossible. So from a practical perspective, progress — not perfection — is a better goal to aim for. Even Epictetus aimed for the goal of progress. This is probably why he told people that he would be happy if he died during the third stage of Stoic practice (what Pierre Hadot called The Discipline of Assent); he didn’t say he wanted to die a sage!

But those novel concepts, mistaken notions, and forgotten principles are sterile if I don’t then go out and try to use them to improve myself.

Gregory Lopez

What do you think is the most important piece of practical advice that we can derive from your work?

Once you find a philosophical practice that makes sense and works for you, drill it for the rest of your life, unless you discover a major flaw along the way.

This addresses two of the major failure modes for people I see coming to practical philosophy:

  1. Enjoying discussing philosophy, but not putting it to use
  2. Flitting from practice to practice, but not consistently sticking with anything

The only way I know of to get better at something is to do the thing repeatedly and consciously, while paying attention to feedback along the way. And if you don’t put a philosophy to use, you aren’t doing anything — you’re discussing it. This likely won’t lead to improvement. Don’t get me wrong: I do find discussion, reading, and lectures valuable, but they’re only valuable up to a point: they help me learn new things, clarify mistaken notions I hold, and serve as reminders for principles I’ve forgotten to apply. But those novel concepts, mistaken notions, and forgotten principles are sterile if I don’t then go out and try to use them to improve myself.

I don’t really find myself falling into the second failure mode anymore, but it’s something I see pop up in people who are looking for life philosophies. I highly recommend exploring different ideas and practices before settling down on something that makes sense and works for you: I did it myself. But once I found a mix of Buddhism and Stoicism that worked for me, I’ve stuck with it. Of course, I vary how I practice and what I’m focusing on based on what problems are currently arising in my life. However, my practice no longer deviates from the core principles and practices of those philosophies — unless I slip in practice altogether, which definitely does happen! But when I do fall off that horse, I try to jump back on, instead of going back to the stables and browsing for new, prettier horses.

But that doesn’t mean people should necessarily stick with the same thing forever if they find something seriously wrong with it. Sometimes, after spending time consistently practicing, you may see that some aspect of the philosophy doesn’t work for you or may even be harmful. In that case, by all means jump off that horse! Just do so for better reasons than novelty-seeking.

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

I don’t have a favorite quote, but I do have a favorite story I tell a lot that I slightly embellish for rhetorical effect. It’s from Epictetus’s Discourses 2.22, where Epictetus is challenging a student who is questioning a Stoic paradox about whether anyone, but the Stoic sage can be a true friend. 

There, Epictetus compares the friendship of non-sages to the friendship of puppies: while everything’s going well, a pen full of puppies will happily play together and get along just fine. But what happens when those puppies aren’t fed for a couple of days, and then you throw a scrap of meat into the pen? These previously friendly puppies will immediately turn against each other, biting and snarling in order to get the scrap all to themselves.

That’s not true friendship. To be a true friend means sticking with others through thick and thin. And only the Stoic sage could remain truly constant in their friendship. That’s why the Stoic sage is the only true friend: they would never turn on anyone, no matter what’s going on. 

This is my favorite story because I think it provides a clean and compelling reason for practicing Stoicism: all of us non-sages have our scrap of meat that will make us turn against those we claim to care about and love. 

But that’s not the best reason to practice Stoicism in my opinion. Instead, if Stoicism fulfills its promise, it will help you become more of a true friend and to truly love. I think that’s a lot more compelling, and a lot more beautiful.

Gregory Lopes

Most people seem to come to Stoicism because they want to feel better. And the surface-level, life-hack form of Stoicism is often packaged and sold with the promise to become “bulletproof” and “invincible”. Even the ancient Stoics sometimes portrayed Stoicism in this way to some degree. But that’s not the best reason to practice Stoicism in my opinion. Instead, if Stoicism fulfills its promise, it will help you become more of a true friend and to truly love. I think that’s a lot more compelling, and a lot more beautiful.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about what you do?

I have a bare-bones personal website where you can get in touch and learn more about me.

I’m also slowly building a couple of online courses for practicing Stoics who already know basic Stoic theory. You can sign up for updates here.

If you’re interested in finding or starting a local Stoic community, check out the non-profit I co-founded, Stoic Fellowship.

If you want to learn about Stoic practice, check out the book a Handbook for New Stoics, which I co-authored.

If you want to come to my meetups — some of which are held online.

You could also follow me on Twitter @GLopezPharmD. However, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it since I currently barely tweet and when I do, it isn’t always related to philosophy.

Suppose you were able to give a talk or workshop at the original location of Plato’s Academy, in Athens.

Both excited and unworthy. But those are both impressions for my prohairesis to work with. 

Dr. Richard Carrier: What Is True

Richard Carrier, Ph.D., is a philosopher and historian with degrees from Berkeley and Columbia, specializing in the contemporary philosophy of naturalism and Greco-Roman philosophy, science, and religion, including the origins of Christianity. He blogs and lectures worldwide, teaches monthly courses online through his website, and is the author of many books, including his defense of a naturalist worldview in Sense and Goodness without God, his academic case for the non-existence of Jesus in On the Historicity of Jesus, as well as his colloquial summary in Jesus from Outer Space, his work on historical methodology in Proving History, his study of ancient science in both Science Education and The Scientist in the Early Roman Empire, his responses to 21st century Christian apologetics in Why I Am Not a Christian and Not the Impossible Faith, and an anthology of his papers on the subject of history in Hitler Homer Bible Christ.

He has also authored chapters in many other books, and articles in magazines and academic journals, and on his namesake blog, covering subjects from politics and history to philosophy and social justice.

Dr. Carrier’s latest book, Jesus from Outer Space: What the Earliest Christians Really Believed about Christ, has been called “Carrier’s best, most engaging, and readable work yet.” by author David Fitzgerald.

His most pertinent title, however, is Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism.

For more about Dr. Carrier and his work see www.richardcarrier.info.

The goal we all should have is to have a complete, coherent worldview that is thoroughly evidence-based rather than built on mere desires and speculations, much less uninformed traditions. 

Dr. Richard Carrier

How did you become interested in this area?

I became a devout Taoist in high school, and by the time I was completing military service at sea years later I had come to realize Taoism was just as false a religion as any other. And yet Taoism was a complete, coherent, organized worldview of immense utility to me in understanding oneself and the world. So, when I was losing my faith I began asking, well, then, what is true? I immediately began writing notes and research plans for my first book, which a decade later became Sense and Goodness without God, a complete modernized worldview covering all the main branches of philosophy, from semantics and epistemology to metaphysics, aesthetics, morality, and politics, showing how they are all inextricably interrelated and inform each other. Those areas of study cannot be pursued in isolation from each other. The goal we all should have is to have a complete, coherent worldview that is thoroughly evidence-based rather than built on mere desires and speculations, much less uninformed traditions. 

At the same time as all of that, I was getting more involved in movement atheism and counter-apologetics, where questions of philosophy not only came up for study and investigation a lot, but where having well-founded solutions to all the major questions was of inestimable value in exploding false worldviews, both religious and secular. The mutual drive to build a complete, evidence-based worldview, and to continually question it to ensure its accuracy and coherence, was thus further inspired as my continual goals of defeating false belief systems and building and hewing my life to the worldview that could claim the greatest probability of being true given the information available to us.

A third track inspiring this life goal was my profession as a historian, which I acquired in graduate school after military service. I studied methodology and soon discovered that we need a coherent, defensible epistemology of history. This led to Proving History, my first peer reviewed monograph in the philosophy of history. But it became apparent that what I had learned of worldview theory applied here as well: you can’t construct a valid epistemology or methodology of history without working out where things stand in every other branch of philosophy, from semantics and epistemology generally, to, again, metaphysics and aesthetics, even morality and politics. Thus, the pursuit of philosophy became just as important to my career as a historian.

What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people?

Besides what I already discussed, the fact that all fundamental branches of philosophy must be well studied to get correct conclusions in any one of them, the next most important idea I aim to convey to everyone is that critical thinking, which is essential to having reliable beliefs, rests on a counter-intuitive foundational principle that the only way to know whether you are right about anything, whether any belief you have is true, is to make every honest and powerful effort to prove it false. Because it is only by failing to do that that you can ever have a justified confidence that any belief is true. If all you do instead is aim to “verify” your beliefs, rather than falsify them, your beliefs will never be reliable.

“…the truth resides in the particulars…”

Dr. Richard Carrier

What do you think is the most important piece of practical advice that we can derive from your work?

Always start with actual particulars and build abstractions and generalizations from them; never just start with abstractions and generalizations and reason from there. Because the truth resides in the particulars, and if you skip a careful study of those, it is too easy to leap to abstractions and generalizations that are inaccurate or false or fail to reliably track reality. So, of every philosophy problem or question, always ask, “What is a real-world example of this?” and then go and collect as many of those real examples as you can, and study the question from there. And this means not hypothetical examples (so-called “thought experiments”; as useful, albeit perilous, as they may be), but actual ones. Actual real things, affecting actual real lives. Always ground your philosophy in reality. That is the only way to ensure it tracks reality.

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

I don’t typically argue by quotation. But I have coined a few bon mots that I find myself having to repeat quite a lot, because they keep being pertinent. Perhaps top of that list is, “You can’t change what a thing is by changing what you call it.”

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about what you do?

To learn more about my philosophy, the first place to start would be my books Sense and Goodness without God and Proving History, and my website’s categories drop-down menu (at richardcarrier.info) has several options in that subject, including just simply “philosophy.” There is also an article there, my Typos List for Sense and Goodness without God, which besides basic corrections includes an outline of what changes there have been in my philosophy since that book was published. 

But if one wants to become a philosopher in their own right, also on my website (among the top margin menus) I provide a starter list of recommended readings for anyone who wants to get their own start as a philosopher, by which I mean for the purpose of building one’s own reliable worldview; actually being a philosopher, as opposed to pursuing philosophy as a profession. The latter I typically don’t recommend, as it doesn’t pay well and buries your life in tasks almost none of which consist of actually doing philosophy, and academia has a tendency to destroy the creativity and breadth of interest in anyone immersed in it. Most “professional” philosophers too often end up narrowing their interests and pursuing them with blinders on rather than building worldviews or devoting their pursuit to practical application in human lives. 

Philosophy should be your religion, your devotional faith-pursuit. And though one can do that and pursue it professionally at the same time, counter-intuitively, you might find it easier to do if your professional life were consumed in a more productive passion, and philosophy were your personal life-project.

Suppose you were able to give a talk or workshop at the original location of Plato’s Academy, in Athens.

Well, of course that would be an experience worth having. But really, I’d just use it as an opportunity to explore ancient history roundabout, as my Columbia University dissertation was on the social and intellectual history of ancient Greco-Roman science, philosophy, and religion. So I’d be even more excited to visit important artifacts of the era, from the Antikythera Mechanism at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, to the inscriptions and ruins of the great temple hospice of Asclepius in Epidaurus. 

In light of that, if I did lecture at the original site of the Academy, I would probably speak on ancient contributions to the modern epistemology of science, and how only some of Plato’s students went on to make real progress on that, and by largely rejecting most of Plato’s ideas in philosophy—most prominently, Aristotle. I think it would be a living act of poetry to lecture on this point at the Academy, and then lecture the next day on Aristotle’s legacy through his successor Strato at the original site of the Lyceum that both men once ran!

Scott Samuelson: The Deep Mystery of Being Alive

Scott Samuelson, winner of the 2015 Hiett Prize in the Humanities, is the author of The Deepest Human Life: An Introduction to Philosophy for Everyone (University of Chicago Press, 2014) and has published articles in the Wall Street Journal, the Huffington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Chronicle of Higher Education, The Philosopher’s Magazine, and Christian Century. His article “Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers” in The Atlantic has been widely circulated. He’s been interviewed on NPR and given various public lectures and talks, including a TEDx talk “How Philosophy Can Save Your Life.”

Prof. Samuelson also teaches philosophy at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa City, Iowa as well as at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center, a.k.a. Oakdale Prison. He draws on his prison teaching in his second book, Seven Ways of Looking at Pointless Suffering: What Philosophy Can Tell Us about the Hardest Mystery of All. His upcoming book, Rome as a Guide to the Good Life, is slated to release in the Spring of 2023.

For more information, please visit https://scottsamuelsonauthor.com/.

How did you become interested in this area?

When I was sixteen, I noticed a book in the Iowa City Public Library about philosophy. I knew nothing about the subject, but I was intrigued and started flipping through it. One section was entitled “Five Proofs of God”—by someone named Thomas Aquinas. That there could even be one proof of God was mind-blowing enough—but five!? Since the section wasn’t all that long, I sat down and read it. I couldn’t make heads or tails of the proofs. Strangely, they insinuated doubt into my mind about God’s existence.

If we can do things like prove God, I wondered, doesn’t that mean we’re also capable of inventing God? Nevertheless, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that whatever Thomas Aquinas was doing was the greatest thing a human being could do. I wanted in. I wanted to be a philosopher, even though I had no clue what philosophy was. I started reading other philosophers (the existentialists at first) and have never looked back. There are probably several good ways of navigating life but let me stand up for heading down an alluring path with no idea where you’re going.

What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people?

Socrates famously suggests that the unexamined life is not worth living. I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, but I consider it my mission as a teacher and writer to show the beauty of living the examined life. My first book The Deepest Human Life: An Introduction to Philosophy for Everyone is my most concerted attempt to get this point across. What does the examined life involve? Among other things, paying loving attention to the world, reading widely, listening to people, trying to understand what they’re doing and why, thinking clearly and honestly about what matters most, being willing to face suffering and tragedy, adjusting your beliefs in light of experience, and reminding yourself that the truth is always bigger than what you think it is.

There are two great impediments to the examined life. The first is the belief that you’re already in possession of what gives meaning and value to life, and anyone who disagrees with you is wrong. The second is the view that nothing gives meaning and value to life, so everyone is equally right. Both of these positions, admittedly, contain an element of truth. The dogmatist is right that there’s something real to understand, and the relativist is right that it’s hubristic to believe any one person is in full possession of it. But I take the essence of philosophy to be (as its etymology suggests) the love of wisdom: not the possession of wisdom but the desire for wisdom that you don’t yet—and may never fully—possess.

If all we do is war against suffering and death, we miss out on the deep mystery of being alive.

Scott Samuelson

What do you think is the most important piece of practical advice that we can derive from your work?

In a sense, it’s a variation on the old adage memento mori. In my book Seven Ways of Looking at Pointless Suffering, I make the case that it’s worthwhile to remember our mortality—and our vulnerability more generally. We’re used to trying to fix suffering and death (for instance, with medicine) and trying to forget about suffering and death (for instance, by distracting ourselves). But I argue that we should also face suffering and death. The arts can be especially helpful here, as can religion. I think philosophy at its finest—for instance, Stoicism—is particularly good at it.

If all we do is war against suffering and death, we miss out on the deep mystery of being alive. So, my piece of practical advice is that the good life involves the paradox of simultaneously opposing and accepting suffering and death. My metaphor for this is the martial arts. Martial artists fight as hard as they can against their opponents, but they always bow to their opponents before and after sparring. Likewise, we should try to minimize the misery in the world and prolong our lives up to a point, but we should also bow before the tragic mysteries—not just because they’re inevitable and intrinsic to life itself, but because doing so enhances the quality of our lives.

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

I’m quite fond of Paul Valéry’s observation: “You can’t get drunk with the labels on the bottles.” In my view, people waste far too much time trying to get drunk on labels like Buddhism, evangelicalism, liberalism, Platonism, surrealism . . . Though I’m not opposed to labels, I prefer the wine.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about what you do?

Here’s another good quotation from a poet, this time from Randall Jarrell: “Read at whim!” I
would also recommend looking at whim, conversing at whim, and thinking at whim—at least if you want to learn more about the kind of philosophy I do.

Suppose you were able to give a talk or workshop at the original location of Plato’s Academy, in Athens. 

I’d feel honored—but also intimidated. I’d imagine Plato’s great teacher cornering me with his withering irony, “Rare friend, how much you must know to feel qualified to speak in this
illustrious place! Let me become your disciple so that I may walk away from our conversation enriched by your great wisdom. Surely you will not mind, since I am an ignorant man, if I ask you a few questions first . . .”

Christopher Phillips: The Socrates Café Movement

Christopher Phillips

Christopher Phillips, PhD, is founder of the global Socrates Café movement, dedicated to making ours a more understanding, connected and participatory world through rigorous, methodical yet accessible philosophical questions. Hundreds of ongoing Socrates Cafés and kindred groups have been established, including in Saudi Arabia, with people of many ages and walks of life at venues including community and cultural centers, libraries, universities and schools, coffee houses, hospitals, prisons, as well as via virtual platforms.

In addition to many scholarly essays, he has authored an array of general interest books translated into many languages, including the acclaimed international bestsellers, Socrates Café: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy, Six Questions of Socrates, as well as Socrates in Love, A Child at Heart and the upcoming Soul of Goodness. His various popular philosophical children’s books includes Philosophers’ Club and Day of Why.

Christopher has been Network Ethics Fellow at Harvard University, Senior Research and Writing Fellow at University of Pennsylvania, the first-ever senior education fellow at the National Constitution Center, and was recipient of the Distinguish American Leadership Award. Christopher’s newest book is Soul of Goodness: Transform Grievous Hurt, Betrayal and Setback into Love, Joy and Compassion. You can find out more about his work at ChristopherPhillips.com.


How did you become interested in this area (Philosophy)?

I had little choice but to become interested. As I write in my newest book, Soul of Goodness, when I was quite young my Greek grandmother, or Yaya, Calliope Kavazarakis Phillips, began to instill me with philosophical teachings that she herself had learned from her own parents. She was the oldest of eight, and as such in that matrilineal society (the oldest female sibling received and all inheritances, per tradition), she was a forbidding, astute, loving, incredibly intelligent and passionate person. Though I was raised in the Tidewater region of Virginia, I spent all my childhood and adolescent summers in Tampa, Florida, under my Yaya’s wing and tutelage. So while my friends back in Virginia were enjoying a leisurely break from the formal school year, I was being schooled by my Yaya, who took advantage of this time to instill me in all things bright and beautiful about my Greek heritage.

After immigrating (not once, but twice) from the tiny volcanic island of Nisyros, in the South Aegean, to the U.S. through Ellis Island and eventually settling in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, my yaya Calliope (named after the ancient Greek muse of wisdom and poetry) put out her shingle as a teacher of Greek language and culture. I believe she’s the very first one to have done that in Tampa.

As a youngster, I learned from my Yaya her unique take or slant on (what follows is notes I took when I was 11):

  • eudaimonia – Guarantor of human flourishing, wellness, prosperity, blessedness. Spirit of joy obtained through suffering and agony, when your heart is in another. “The one who lives well”—for arete—is blessed, prosperous and joyful.— Socrates, Plato’s Republic, Book 1
  • and atopos – Spirit of a wanderer rooted at home, apart from yet connected, out of place yet belonging, strange yet familiar, marvelous and distasteful – “This is a custom of [Socrates]: . . . he stands apart wherever he happens to be.”
  • and daimon – Divine voice of conscience, reflection, self-awareness, goodness
  • and sophrosyne – Spirit of a sound and healthy (good and just) mind and soul. Conductor of the spirit orchestra. Teaches you when to restrain and when to let loose, when to go it alone and when to team up. Socrates, Plato’s Republic, Book 4: “Sophrosyne . . . stretches through the whole, from top to bottom of the entire scale, making the weaker, the stronger, and those in the middle . . . sing the same chant together.”

As I write in Soul of Goodness, this is in essence “the chant of arete, a Hellenic Greek term for all-around excellence in all life’s dimensions. A siren song with sophia-scored notes, compelling you to lead a life outside common hours, marching to your own drummer. It does not lead one to set out to achieve the comparatively puny goals of happiness or the good life—goals commonly and scandalously misattributed to Socrates himself—but leads one to reach for kinds of excellence and joyousness on the other side of (or more likely, along with) suffering, agony, despair.

Even though I have since gone on to earn lots of lots of degrees, including three masters degrees and.a PhD, philosophy has remained earthy and down to earth for me, thanks to my Yaya Calliope, but in ways that inspire me forever to push outwards the bounds of creating, sculpting human ways of being

So I also learned about these rich concepts in ways that differ quite markedly from how they’re typically bandied about these days in academia and elsewhere. I try to set the record straight about them in Soul of Goodness, not as an end in itself but so readers can learn how to channel these concepts, which are also kinds of ‘spirits,’ I maintain, that can help get us through the most trying times.

I also was schooled by my Yaya Calliope about the pre-Socratics, about Zeno of Citium, to whom she took a particular shine; but her heart and soul was with Socrates. She gave me a collection of Plato’s Socratic dialogues when I was about 10, and I had but little choice to pour over it. Thankfully Plato, a poet and dramatist of the life of reason, was an engaging writer, and most of what he wrote wasn’t as over my head as I worried it might be. I became smitten with the Socrates he adumbrated – not just the historical version but latter versions that Plato featured and that also to me had an integrity and imaginative vision and intellectual honesty, even if that particular ‘iteration’ of Socrates didn’t exist in real life.

But these were not by any means mere didactic teachings. For her, the life of excellence and virtue hinged on cultivating what she referred to as the ‘Socratic spirit,’ a curious, fascinating amalgam of forces and practices and knowledge traditions that could see you through the most difficult times. I never really realized, until my father’s devastating unexpected death, how critical these teachings and practices of hers were in enabling me to see my way through all the terrifying ugliness that ensued in the wake of my father’s passing, and about which I write in Soul of Goodness – and not just as a memoir, but as a guide or path of sorts for others who themselves are experiencing grievous or extreme setbacks, reversals, loss, in their personal and private lives.

What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people?

That’s a challenging question for me, in part, because I don’t consider myself a teacher (probably why I feel atopos in the academic cloister 🙂 – more of a ‘modeler.’ I consider myself an ‘openist’ (which is different that a ‘pluralist’), and by that I mean I try to be open to new discoveries, ‘surprises,’ paradigm shifts in knowing and creating, and to model and sculpt a type of persona, sensibility, ethos in which to live a life of conscience, excellence, integrity, boundless childlike curiosity.

Be that as it may, there are key Hellenic Greek concepts by which I live and do try to impart whenever given the opportunity. I sport a heart-shaped tattoo on my forearms with the Greek lettering for the concepts of arete and meraki. These are words I was brought up with on how to live. The one I would choose above all the others, since you have asked for one, is arete. As the great Greek scholar H.D.F. Kitto put it, arete is about being an excellent all-rounder, but with an ethos imbued, in which duty to self and to others goes hand in glove.

Christopher Phillips Tattoo

By the lofty benchmark of arete, we should, each in our singular way, strive to be excellent doers, thinkers, makers, strive to learn between and above and beyond any specific discipline or knowledge category, and strive for a kind axiological and existential way of being in which we never try to advance by self-aggrandizement, at the expense of others, but rather to immerse ourselves in this world in ways in which we’re always trying to make conditions more fertile for all our other fellow humans to be all to ‘be all they can be,’ always while cultivating a keener social conscience, sculpting ideas and ideals (and maybe imagining, discovering and realizing new ones along the way) that make our mortal moment one in which those who came before us would be most proud.

The concept of meraki (as well as others) is entwined (I say this as someone with dual Greek-U.S. citizenship) with this unique Greek way of living out loud, with passion, and commitment and joy, soulfully, rather Zorba-like – probably the towering public intellectual and philosopher Cornel West, my dear friend, a great Socratic thinker and unswerving supporter, would call it living a life of jazz, guided by an existential ‘Coltrane-ian’ ethos and pathos. In this way, you live with ‘Socratic spirit,’ with poetry and passion and commitment and unwavering discipline and stick-to-it-ive-ness that not only is about living an engaged present, spending yourself in a way that does justice to those who came before you (many if not most of whom had no opportunity to articulate much less realize) their more sublime aspirations, those present with you know, maybe starting with your own family and forever expanding outward the circle of inclusion from there, and those still to come, not just in the next immediate generations, but for hundreds of generations hence. I believe we’re largely lacking that kind of imaginative and empathic vision today in the age of woke and cancel culture and extraordinary polarization that can lead us to be isolated even from ourselves. All the more reason to try to model and example of how to live rightly and righteously, not in a one size fits all prescriptive way, but in a way that inspires others to find and chart their own unique path that always takes into account arete and meraki.

I have this tattooed on my forearms not so much as a reminder but an impetus that these are at the core of how I live. Socrates said in Plato’s Republic that all questions we examine should ultimately lead to greater insight into that question of questions, namely how one should live. But I think we need to cultivate concomitantly the spirits of arete, meraki, atopos, eudaimonia, sophrosyne, as we explore these questions – indeed, it’s sort of a ‘feedback loop,’ the spirits driving the Socratic method, and the method driving the spirits.

What do you think is the most important piece of practical advice that we can derive from your work?

I’m not very practical by today’s benchmarks. Probably my most important piece of impractical advice is: you never know when your time is up, so give every day everything you have, take sublime risks if you have the opportunity, and try to do some good. Nietzsche said something to the effect that we shouldn’t requite evil with evil, but show those who have deliberately acted upon us and others in an evil way how they did us some good. But that can be too self-centered. I think we should, instead, when we are the victims of betrayal, loss, setback, and worse, because of the deliberate actions of others who may be filled with malignance, maliciousness, malevolence in this increasingly Age of Rage, that we should strive more than ever not to show how it did US some good per se, but how it drives us, more than ever, to DO GOOD, period. My own beloved father’s mysterious and untimely death certainly has, and all the ugly events that continue to swirl around it, more than anything else has made me even more driven to do what I can, while I can, to make ours a more heart-shaped world.

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’

That question has always resonated with me. I believe he posed that question at a high school discourse in 1967, as part of his speech’s overarching “What is your life’s blueprint?” theme. I never was called upon, by any legal statute (like conscription) to serve my country or world, yet for me it was incumbent to do so. I don’t really preach to others, but try to live by example. Here I am, nearly 63, and continuing to live on a wing and prayer, even though I have a family (a young one!) to provide for. It’s more important than ever to try to make ours a more connected and understanding world. One of our longtime Socrates Cafe organizers in San Antonio, Texas (we have over 500 Socrates Cafe ongoing gatherings around the globe – go to SocratesCafe.com to learn more), a wonderful retired educator named Marta Amezquita, recently wrote me to tell me, “I truly don’t know another person whose intent is to create community whose sole purpose is to deliberately make participants feel seen & be heard. It is the epitome of love.” I was deeply moved by Marta’s kind words to me, which I hope describe to the core all that I’ve sought to do this last quarter century (and more, really).

I relate in Soul of Goodness my formative experiences, living just outside of Washington, D.C. There I witnessed the aftermath of the riots after Dr. King’s assassination, bearing witness to ‘Resurrection City,’ a vast but temporary encampment that was a key part of the great people’s anti-poverty campaign in the Mall area of Washington, D.C. This drew tens of thousands from across the U.S. to give voice to the voiceless and address the glaring inequalities in society. I write in my new book about the serendipitous experience helping an overwhelmed single mother there that surely laid the foundation for everything I have done since. My grand aim in life is to make sure everyone not just has a voice, but the opportunity to develop, discover, contribute their voice as participatory co-creators of this world.

“No one recognized the linkage between, and drilled down into, Plato’s conception of a healthy soul and Shakespeare’s “soul of goodness” like the American transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. He is the only writer and thinker I’ve ever come across to link the two conceptions. In “Character,” Emerson tells us that “a healthy soul stands united with the Just and the True, as the magnet arranges itself with the pole; so that he stands to all beholders like a transparent object betwixt them and the sun, and whoso journeys towards the sun, journeys towards that person. He is thus the medium of the highest influence to all who are not on the same level. Thus, men of character are the conscience of the society to which they belong. Such a soul is the epitome of autonomy and social conscience, which aren’t at opposite ends of a continuum but inseparable.

from Soul of Goodness

Emerson then goes on to say that one with a soul of goodness escapes from any set of circumstances; whilst prosperity belongs to a certain mind, and will introduce that power and victory which is its natural fruit, into any order of events.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about what you do?

First, I’d encourage them to take part in a Socrates Cafe. There are gatherings everywhere, and I also preside over them virtually by Zoom, so they are welcome to write me so I can let them know when our next ones are taking place. (If you can’t find a gathering near you, we have a guide on our SocratesCafe.com website on how to start and facilitate a Socrates Cafe) One other way to learn about me is to dip or dive into my books, from my first ones, Socrates Cafe: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy and Six Questions of Socrates: A Modern-Day Journey of Discovery through World Philosophy, to my latest, by far my most intimate and personal work, Soul of Goodness: Transform Grievous Hurt, Betrayal, and Setback Into Love, Joy, and Compassion.

In part, they might want to accompany me on the journey to sculpt a soul of goodness – and they can do that in part by using the complementary/complimentary guide that my wife and life partner Ceci (whom I met at a Socrates Cafe! she was the only one who attended that magical evening, as I write in ‘Socrates Cafe’) lovingly put together.

We also have a Socrates Cafe Youtube channel, which features everything from mini Socrates Cafes with my daughters to exchanges with luminaries like Cornel West,
author of the class ‘Race Matters’ .

Suppose you were able to give a talk or workshop at the original location of Plato’s Academy. How would you feel about that?

I would be thrilled out of my mind. (And the prominent Greek publisher Livanis, which sponsored my Greek citizenship application – it flew through in record time –
is publishing my newest book in Greek, so all the more reason to venture there, as well as also pay a visit the island from which my forebears came to the U.S. and where I visit whenever possible. My last visit to Nisyros starts off my Soul of Goodness – nowhere else on this universe to I feel more connected to myself, my family, and the immensity
itself, then Nisyros.

If I gave a talk or workshop, it’d likely center around, ‘How to question like Socrates?’ The artful framing, and answering, of meaningful questions, as timely as they are timeless, has in large measure been lost, I lament. A method of questioning, from scientific to Socratic (they are kindred – and I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the Socratic Method) without an ethos of heartfelt listening with all one’s being, is bereft of something critical. It would be interactive, and so I’d model it by actually having participants such a questioning love-in. I’d certainly touch on key influences in my decision to commit my life to spreading Socratic inquiry far and wide – starting with Socrates, but also including Hannah Arendt, Walter Kaufmann, Justus Buchler, and ever so many others.

When you learn to truly question like Socrates – not as a Socrates imitator or emulator, but as someone who understands that the best methods of questioning evolve over time – you learn better to ‘do’ like Socrates, because you become ever more imbued with the Socratic spirits about which I write in in Soul of Goodness – because make no mistake, daimon, sophrosyne, atopos, daimon, even arete and meraki, are comprised of spirits among other things.

In fact, I have held Socrates Cafes in the very agora area where Socrates once held court in Athens, and I lead off with that in my Six Questions of Socrates. I’d have at it in really immersive inquiry, guiding it with the Socrates Cafe method that I’ve sculpted and evolved over these past 25 years. I’m something of an accidental scholar and academic, and never dreamed I’d have three masters degrees (in the humanities, in education with an unheard-of specialty in Teaching Philosophy for Children), and in the natural sciences (with a specialty in DNA science), and then earning a PhD in Communications from an amazing university in Perth, Australia, long after graduating in 1981 from the College of William & Mary with a BA in Government. But through a serendipitous chain of circumstances, I did become a lifelong learner who straddles the informal and formal teaching and learning and doing disciplines, and I believe I’m a better human being for it. I’ve never aimed or sought to be a full-time prof, but I simply love to learn about things that give me more of a poetic-metaphorical approach to live and living, not as an end in and of itself, but that helps me discover more about what I can and must do to make life more worth living – and perhaps more worth dying for – for one and all.

My aim in large measure is always this: We simply must counteract the pervasive predisposition to think in black and white terms. We have to go back to thinking in nuance, to thinking in a dazzling array of colors in ways that lead us to continually reflect and to challenge ourselves, to explore the lapses and loopholes in any given way of seeing things, especially our own. There is a lot of preaching and proselytism these days, but not even of the kind of introspection that can lead us to mordantly yet gently examine whether our own ideas and ideals are all they are cracked up to be. The ongoing Socrates Cafe gatherings – hundreds of them now, the world over (I never dreamed it would become a global phenomenon, much less that it would have such staying power and even momentum after all this time) – are places and spaces where listen to one another with all our being, with all our might and mind, where we use philosophical questions as the springboard and platform to further discover uncommon common ground and forge meaningful connections, even or especially with those with whom don’t see eye to eye, but are my fellow beloved human beings.

Soul of Goodness

Olga Perdikouri: Hellas Revival

Olga Perdikouri

Olga is the Founder and Managing Director of Hellas Revival, a company organizing workshops, educational programs, and events based on ancient Greek themes, for visitors to Athens and students from schools and universities. She was born in Greece, lives in Athens, is the mother of a teenager, holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics and MBA in Tourism Management, and is a huge fan of ancient Greek history!

Democracy event on Pnyx Hill.
Democracy event on Pnyx Hill in Athens

How did you become so interested in Greek history?

My mother used to work for the National Archaeological Museum in Athens and before that for the Salamis Museum as a guard. I was able to go with her to excavations in Salamis island and also I used to visit her at the National Museum very often. Although her position did not require any historical knowledge, she learned lots of history by listening to the tour guides who were explaining the sites and their history to the visitors. She would come home and tell me everything with much enthusiasm. I think she passed this enthusiasm to me over the years, and I am grateful for that.

Tell us about Hellas Revival. How did the company begin and what sort of workshops and activities do you organize?

Hellas Revival is a dream which came true. First, it was my love for ancient Greek history. Then, during my MBA studies in Tourism Management, our professors insisted that Events and Activities are the future of tourism. They were absolutely right and imagine that this advice came almost 20 years ago!

Moreover, when I became a mother, I realized that my son was learning much faster (and with less resistance) when we were doing things instead of reading them in the books. I used to perform historical facts for him and he was joining with pleasure. At the same time, he was bored during schools’ walking tours in historical sites and forgetting everything he heard after a day or two – I must admit the same for myself.

It really felt like we had become ancient Greeks philosophizing at the original ground of Plato’s school.

Finally, in 2011, I participated in a Philosophy workshop at Plato’s Academy Park. It was more of a lecture, but in the end, there was about 20 minutes for questions and answers. It was the most emotional part of the workshop, it really felt like we had become ancient Greeks philosophizing at the original ground of Plato’s school.

Then it hit me! People need to feel it, to do it, instead of just listen to it! I searched a lot to find events and activities based on ancient Greek history, philosophy, theater etc. There was absolutely none, except for pottery. So, I started organizing such myself, for parents and other associations, but back then it was more like a hobby than an occupation.

In 2019 I decided to create a professional organization, and this is how Hellas Revival began. It was not easy, not at all. Although I found hundreds of people with relevant university degrees and teaching experience, almost none of them could understand the interaction part. History and philosophy were seen as a lesson, or as many lessons, so my idea of making it possible for people with no previous knowledge to DO IT for a just a couple of hours, and have fun at the same time, sound kind of weird.

Eventually I found the right people and now we are able to offer interactive sessions of history, philosophy, theater, games and more. Plus, we do it in the most authentic way, with the original teaching methods, the original materials and of course at the original location.
This year we are organizing:

  • Experiential philosophy workshop at Plato’s Academy Park and Digital Museum
  • Self-enlightening journey with Aristotle’s guidance at his Lyceum
  • Experiential democracy workshop at Pnyx
  • Ancient Greek family games
  • Ancient Greek pottery hands-on experience
  • Ancient Greek theatre workshop

Depending on the program, besides adults, teenagers and kids can also participate. The Democracy Workshop is actually the only one in the entire historical center of Athens which is approved as educational program by the Greek Ministry of Culture. This allows us to bring bigger groups of students from schools and universities. And this is not our only achievement. We have been awarded as Unique Experience in 2021 and as Learning Experience of the Year 2022, for Attica region, by the Travel & Hospitality Awards.

What do you think is the most important thing that people can gain from your events?

Feeling like ancient Greeks! The best way to learn about the ancient Greek culture is to do yourself what these incredible guys were doing. People can combine their visit to significant archaeological sites with a fun and educational experience. We have open discussions, case studies, role plays, team games and much more. And believe me when I say, they learn a lot from it, and, most important, they remember it forever!

Just an example, during our democracy program, participants take roles from the ancient Athens social classes. A case study is given to them and then they have to think, speak and vote according to their role. Their speaking time is counted by a replica of an ancient greek timer (klepsydra), while their votes are carved on real ostracons (pieces of pottery). All of this while standing next to the ancient speaker’s platform, at the very same location where the Citizens’ Assembly (Ekklesia tou Dimoy) took place 2500 years ago!

Do you have any favorite quotes from Greek history or philosophy?

If you want to make someone wealth, do not give him money, take away his desires.

Epicurus

How many religions and life coaches are teaching this!?

From history, I always liked the story (we know it from Lysias speech) of the disabled man who tried to convince the juries that he deserved the state’s pension, against the accusation that he could still work despite his disability. Most people do not realize (and schools do not teach this) that most ancient Greek men had some kind of disability, simply because they were participating in battles very often (philosophers included). 2,500 years ago, the state was taking care of them, provided that they could not work. That says something about the culture of the society.

What sort of events have you organized at the Akadimia Platonos park? What’s the significance of this location for you?

As mentioned before, the idea of Hellas Revival was born at this inspired place. Furthermore, it is the place where we organize Plato’s Philosophy Workshop, which was the first program of Hellas Revival. In antiquity, this idyllic grove right outside the city center, was the ideal place for philosophers and their followers, since it was nearby one of the city’s Gymnasiums (place for training). Many philosophers used to gather there, so that they spread their teachings and theories amongst the youngsters. We know that Plato built his school there, although archeologists have not found the exact building ruins yet. Doing Plato’s philosophy at the place where this great mind used to teach, is a blessing, and –in my opinion– a duty.

Unfortunately, the Park needs lots of improvements, and only recently the municipality started organizing philosophy events. I am a member of the neighborhood cultural association ‘’Ηεκαδεμεια’’, which, since 2013, has pushed the state to develop the area according to its significance. Another goal is to create the Academy of Nations, this was the dream of Mr. Aristofron, the person whose money and will brought the archeologists here in the first place, 100 years ago. Even today excavations use his fund.

I was very glad to hear about Plato’s Academy Centre. Your efforts are crucial for the development of the place. We all need to raise awareness and your Center does this internationally. We hope that during the next years, both private and public sector will see the potential of the place and make it more accessible, more famous, and more interactive for the visitors.

I believe that each little step is important. For example, we encourage the participants of Plato’s workshop to put a public review, not only for the workshop, but for the site as well. A good review for the site is promoting the place. But even a bad review is good, it points that the place needs improvement, which is true (hopefully the municipality people will notice it).

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about Hellas Revival and what you do?

They can visit our Hellas Revival website for information about our mission, our team and of course to view our programs. We are also on Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube. Besides promoting our programs, we post interesting information about ancient Greek history. However, the only way for someone to fully understand what we do, is to join one of our programs. We keep our rates reasonable and we have special prices for groups up to 5 people, which are attractive to families (usually with teenage kids) and to youngsters visiting Athens – and this is our goal, to be easily accessible and be able to spread the knowledge around!

Trent Codd: Socrates and CBT

Trent Codd
Socratic Questioning for Therapists and Counselors

R. Trent Codd, III, Ed.S., is the Executive Director of CBT Counseling Centers, a multi-disciplinary practice specializing in evidence-based mental health care with several locations across North Carolina. Trent completed his graduate work at the University of Florida and has extensive post-graduate training in several empirically-supported treatments. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

Trent has authored and co-authored several peer reviewed publications and books including Socratic Questioning for Therapists and Counselors: Learn How to Think and Intervene like a Cognitive Behavior Therapist. He can be found online at trentcodd.com.

How did you become interested in cognitive-behavioural therapy?

I developed a strong interest in behaviorism as a young graduate student, which led me to the writings of B.F. Skinner and other behaviorists. Consuming this literature led to my developing, among other things, a strong appreciation for philosophy. I am a psychotherapist and early in my clinical training the confluence of my interests in psychotherapy, behaviorism, and philosophy resulted in an admiration of the clinical applications of behavioral psychology.

Since most of the applied behavior analytic literature focused on the problems experienced by individuals with developmental disabilities, the literature pertaining to clinical problems seen in the psychotherapy clinic was immature. This is still the case today. Consequently, I gravitated to the Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies where I encountered the writings of Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis, both of whom articulated the Stoic underpinnings of their psychotherapies. This literature is where I first contacted Stoicism. Subsequently, I became particularly interested in Socratic dialogue because it was so central to Beck’s Cognitive Therapy. I was also influenced by Massimo Pigliucci and Donald Robertson’s work on Stoicism.

It is important to take the time to determine which ideas are truly problematic…

Trent Codd

What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people?

The most important concept that I teach people is that of identifying truly meaningful targets. By this I mean it is important to take the time to determine which ideas are truly problematic and play a central role in a client’s maladaptive emotional and behavioral patterns; it is easy for a clinician to be distracted by a range of problematic thoughts reported by a client that on their face appear to be clinically significant. This may lead to premature and ineffective intervention. For example, many troubling thoughts reported by a client are fleeting and will resolve given the simple passage of time.

Furthermore, not all ideas contribute equally to the distress a client experiences. A more sophisticated clinical approach is characterized by a clinician who is patient and resists the temptation to intervene until they are confident they have identified a thought or belief, in collaboration with the client, that truly matters to the difficulty of interest. That is, they have identified a clinically meaningful cognitive target. Analogously, an individual working with their distressing thoughts on their own would similarly be wise to learn to identify the key ideas that are central to their challenges.

What do you think is the most important piece of practical advice that we can derive from your work?

Don’t believe everything you think. This phrase did not originate with me, but I think it perfectly captures the essence of the most important advice I have to offer.

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.

Socrates

The modern version –

If I know anything, it is that I don’t know everything and neither does anyone else

M.P. Lynch

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about what you do?

I would recommend pursuing reading in the area, such as our book Socratic Questioning for Therapists and Counselors. I would also recommend pursuing experiential learning methods. One option in this regard is the workbook Mind over Mood.

I would also consider working with a good cognitive-behavioral therapist who is skillful in these methods. An effective way to identify this type of clinician is the international therapist listing maintained by the Academy of Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies.

Suppose you were able to give a talk or workshop at the original location of Plato’s Academy. How would you feel about that?

An opportunity such as this would be an absolute honor.