fbpx

YPO in Athens – Stoicism for Modern Life and Business

Plato’s Academy Centre (PAC) recently provided a helping hand to the YPO and Aurelius Foundation, who organized a historic four-day Stoicism event in Athens.

The YPO is an international business networking organization for young CEOs. The Aurelius Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to spreading Stoic wisdom, through the four cardinal virtues, including doing outreach in universities and prisons. The Aurelius Foundation organized this unique event in Athens in collaboration with the YPO, and PAC were pleassed to offer some advice on local venues, etc.

Reception: Gennadius Library Gardens

The opening reception was held on the evening of 22nd September in the beautiful east gardens of the Gennadius Library. Tassos Economou, the emeritus chair of YPO, set the tone perfectly for the event. Lina Mendoni, the Minister for Culture and Sports, was out of the country but kindly sent a letter expressing her support for the event. Adonis Georgiadis, the Minister for Development and Investment, and George James Tsunis, the US Ambassador to Greece gave rousing speeches about Stoicism. They were followed by Bettany Hughes OBE, author of The Hemlock Cup, who got everyone excited for all the philosophy and history to come over the next few days.

This was followed by a joint networking event with the YPO Aegean / Macedonia chapter in the National Gallery. VIP guests on the first evening were Dr. Maria Georgopoulou, Director of the Gennadius Library, and Pantelis Panos, General Manager of the American School for Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA).

Kasey Robertson with the statue of Pericles, outside City Hall, Athens

Main Conference: Cotsen Hall

The main conference was held the following day in Cotsen Hall, with support from the American School for Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA).

Donald Robertson, of the Plato’s Academy Centre, and Justin Stead, of the Aurelius Foundation, hosted the event, which featured keynotes from Dr. John Sellars (“Modern Stoicism”), chair of the Modern Stoicism nonprofit, and Angie Hobbs (“Stoicism and the Good Life”), professor of the public understanding of philosophy at Exeter University.

Our other speakers included Karen Duffy, author of Wise Up; Artemios Miropoulos, author of The Nameless King; Pat Cash, a former Wimbledon tennis champion; and Tim LeBon, research director of Modern Stoicism, who organized workshops on Stoicism and emotional resilience. We also had a panel discussing Stoicism in Business, including Tassos Economou, Michalis Michael, Justin Stead, and Greg Galant.

Donald Robertson and Karen Duffy, on Mount Lycabettus

Conference: Plato’s Academy Park

We are especially grateful to the mayor and municipality of Athens for permission to hold an open-air event, under a marquee tent, in the historic location of Plato’s Academy Park. Keynotes on 24th were by Bettany Hughes OBE (“The roots of Stoicism – Socrates, Confucius, Buddha”) and Donald Robertson (“Plato’s Academy Park: The Past and Future”), with presentations from Andy Small, about Stoicism in UK prisons; Anthony Magnabosco, on Street Epistemology; and Mark Tuitert, an Olympic gold medallist in speed skating. We also had a panel (“What can we learn from classical wisdom?”) featuring Angie Hobbs, Bettany Hughes, and John Sellars.

Kostas Bakoyannis, the Mayor of Athens, spoke to the audience, and stressed his support for the event, and his desire to see it return to this historic location in the future. The conference was followed by tours of the Ancient Agora and Acropolis.

Meeting Mayor of Athens with YPO
Donald Robertson, Justin Stead, Kostas Bakoyannis, Pat Cash, and Michalis Michael, at Plato’s Academy Park

Cruise to Cape Sounion

The event concluded on the 25th with a boat trip to Cape Sounion and the ancient Temple of Poseidon. We had a mini conference on the boat with talks from Mick Mulroy, of the Lobo Institute, on Stoicism in the military, and Eugenia Manolidou, of Elliniki Agogi, on philosophy and the power of the ancient Greek language.

There was also a panel of young Stoics, discussing Stoicism and leadership, including Sukhraj Gill, Ross Paton, Dhruv Makwana, and Lori Huica.

The Temple of Poseidon, Cape Sounion

The event seemed to be a huge success overall, based on the feedback we’ve had so far, and we learned many things that will benefit us when running future events in Athens. We already have plans for several new events in Athens, which will be open to everyone.  If you want to be notified about them, just subscribe to our email newsletter or follow our social media accounts.

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.   

Anthony Opoka: A Stoic and Didn’t Know It

Anthony Opoka

by Mick Mulroy

Several years ago, after serving most of my career in warzones, I lived and worked in Uganda. One of the missions we had was to support what the United States called Operation Observant Compass, the joint effort between the U.S. and the Ugandan military to end the Lord’s Resistance Army  or LRA. 

The LRA is an insurgency group against the government of Uganda that was founded in 1987 by Joseph Kony, one of the most wanted persons in the world. The group is known for its widespread use of abducted children forced to be soldiers and commit atrocities such as murder and rape and would be killed for refusing to obey. Estimates vary, but 10 to 20 thousand children were forced into the LRA as soldiers. 

While serving in Uganda and working on this operation, I first met Anthony Opoka at a remote Base in the jungle of Central Africa. He was a ‘cultural advisor’ to the operation. I told Anthony that I had spent almost my whole career fighting alongside local militaries and militias in conflict areas. I was also very much a student and a practitioner of irregular warfare, including insurgencies and counterinsurgencies.

We became friends almost immediately, something that from my perspective usually takes more time. I asked him if he had an injury to his arm as I had noticed him holding his wrist. He said that he did have ‘big injury’ where he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.  I asked whether that happened while fighting the LRA, and he responded ‘No, I was LRA.’

Anthony single handedly talked dozens of child soldiers into defecting and leaving the fight, likely saving their lives. It was Anthony that positively identified Dominic Ongwen, the deputy of Joseph Kony, 2014 who was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, rape, torture, and enslavement at the International Criminal Courts in 2021. 

One thing that most people recognize about Anthony is how easy it is to talk to him and how he puts you at ease almost immediately. He truly exhibits the ‘Stoic Calm’ that all of us Stoics seek in ourselves. He does it without effort. I started trying to emulate him. In addition to the counter-LRA mission, we had a significant counter-terrorism mission with the Al Qaeda affiliate Al Shabab from Somalia, posing a significant threat to Uganda and the Americans there. Including an attempt that we thwarted at the last minute.  

I started to see that everything that made a Stoic a true Stoic was right there in a person who had never even heard of the concept or the philosophy.

I started to see that everything that made a Stoic a true Stoic was right there in a person who had never even heard of the concept or the philosophy. The Cardinal Virtues that Stoics derived from Plato’s Republic of Courage, Justice, Wisdom, and Temperance. That and living in conjunction with nature were how to achieve eudaimonia.

Anthony was well known for his Courage. I began to interview many of them while researching the counter-insurgency efforts before the U.S. participation in the academic journal Center for the Studies of Intelligence. Everyone that served with him had stories of his bravery in combat (although in the LRA, the soldiers had an unusual bond to one another far above and apart from their allegiance to Joseph Kony). 

There were no awards for this, no accolades; he risked his life to save his friends because that is who he was. When Anthony asked his friend to smuggle his wife Florence and children out of the bush, he did so, thinking that he would undoubtedly be executed for that act. When I asked him if the decision at least gave him pause before deciding it, he simply said ‘no.’

Justice was something that was never afforded to Anthony. He was from a very rural village of mud huts with no running water or electricity. The government of Uganda treated the Acholi (the tribe of Anthony) as second-class citizens. They were brutal in their treatment, leading to multiple uprisings, including the establishment of the LRA. The same group ostensibly established to protect the people of northern Uganda soon turned on them, essentially enslaving them as a child army. 

In the LRA justice was swift, brutal, and at the whims of Joseph Kony, who could, with one decision, kill an entire village or turn on his own soldiers ordering their execution. Anthony was often on the receiving end of this brutality. When he finally escaped and had the opportunity to leave this horrible part of his life behind him, he didn’t. He became the leading person talking other LRA soldiers into escaping as well. 

After their escape, he and his wife were often the only support they had as many of their villages refused to take them back. Anthony became an integral part of the program to help them get accepted. A process that still exists today and is run by a organization called Grassroots Reconciliation Group, of which Anthony and Florence are still a part. They fought for justice for those who had never had it in a community that refused to provide it at first. Justice for Anthony was fairness tied to compassion.

Wisdom in the Stoic sense is beyond just knowledge of a subject; it is also genuine intellectual curiosity, ingenuity, and the ability to develop a position based on where the facts lead and not just where you want them to lead. Anthony had an uncommon wisdom. It did not come from former extended schooling, as that was limited and cut short with his childhood abduction. Anthony is the most clever person I have ever met. It likely saved his life many times over. 

When he was injured severely, he no longer could fully be a soldier. Something the LRA leadership may have considered a liability. He could have quickly been shot and discarded as not worth keeping around, but Anthony had a skill they needed more than ever. He could navigate by using the stars, a skill his father had taught him and one that the LRA required as they could only travel at nights as the Ugandan Army had begun indiscriminately targeting the LRA with helicopter gunships during the day, likely saving many of his fellow soldiers. 

After this, Anthony was chosen to be a radio operator and code-talker for the leadership to, include Joseph Kony because of his ability to learn new skills. These skills made Anthony valuable in assisting the mission to end the LRA as a viable insurgency and save countless future child soldiers that would have been forced into that organization. 

Temperance can often elude someone who has seen even a fraction of what Anthony had seen. Often, former child soldiers become the most violent of militia leaders and perpetuate the abuse that was inflicted upon them. Anthony somehow managed to avoid any of these problems.. 

Like others of my CIA generation, I had many friends killed in the Afghanistan, Iraq, and others wars. After leaving Uganda, more friends were killed, and my wife and I was part of the notification of the family. Families that were essentially our own. It was my conversations with Anthony that helped me get through this. Someone who knew what I was talking about, but also someone that had already become the rock for many, and now me.

My interest in exploring the pre-U.S. counter-insurgency effort soon became a fascination with Anthony and Florence’s personal story. I believe a story could inspire former child soldiers around the world or anyone who thought they faced overwhelming odds that were not worth fighting.  Their story proved that it was always worth the fight. 

I started an amateur documentary and recruited my friends to assist as I was required to have other Americans with me to travel to this area of Uganda due to the remoteness and potential hazards. Matt Sullivan, Brina Bunt, Cara Dana and my future business partner Eric Oehlerich who along with Mark Rausenberger put the eventual documentary together with me. 

At the time, it would take us six hours to drive to Anthony and Florence village. It was as remote as it was when they were there as children.  After filming the documentary (eventually called My Star in the Sky) every day with the villagers as the actors, we would sit around the fire and eat. Very basic food cooked over the fire, and watch people tell stories or sing. No TV, no iPads, no nothing but people and a camp fire. People laughing, talking, and just being there in that moment.  

I don’t want to overly romantize it. Its was a tough life, but everytime when were driving back to Kampala and the urban diplomat life, the American with me would comment on how surprised they were at how happy they all were. How they would love to sit around the dinner table and just talk with their kids without the distractions of modernity.  It was the last in the pillars, living in harmony with nature.  It showed me that what really matters in not what you own, its who you are.

 Anthony was by all accounts a ‘Stoic and didn’t know it.’ 


The story of Anthony and Florence will soon be available for all to know as award winning New York Times best-selling author Mark Sullivan is in the final stages of a book on their life. A portion of the proceeds will go to the charity End Child Soldiering, founded by Eric Oehlerich and the author.

About the author:

Michael “Mick” Patrick Mulroy, is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, a retired CIA paramilitary operations officer from their Special Activities Center and U.S. Marine, an ABC News national security and defense analyst, a Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute, a co-founder of the Lobo Institute and End Child Soldiering, on the board of advisors for Grassroots Reconciliation Group and on the board of advisors for Plato’s Academy Centre. He is also the godfather of two of Anthony’s son’s.  

Anthony Opoka

From Wise Up by Karen Duffy

Wise Up by Karen Duffy

This is an excerpt from Wise Up: Irreverent Enlightenment from a Mother Who’s Been Through It reproduced by kind permission of the author, Karen Duffy, and her publisher, Seal Press.


Stoicism is a good and faithful companion. When you’re alone, it offers good company. When you’re ambitious, it inspires self-discipline. When you’re lazy, it motivates action. When you’re fortunate, it reminds you to be grateful and moderate. When you’re suffering, it teaches you to dig deep and be resilient. When you are anxious and fearful, it gives you the knowledge that you have the guts to carry on.

Anxiety and fear want to protect you from harm. In keeping you from engaging the tests you face, they also keep you from the good things in life.

Karen Duffy

Donald Robertson, the best-selling author and noted Stoic philosopher, has a particularly sharp insight: “Worry is a horror story we tell ourselves where we exaggerate the probability, imminence, and severity of a perceived threat and minimize our ability to cope with it.” Anxiety and fear want to protect you from harm. In keeping you from engaging the tests you face, they also keep you from the good things in life.

Wise Up by Karen Duffy
Wise Up by Karen Duffy

Courage is not a limited resource. In a pinch, you can borrow it. Be inspired by others. Borrow a philosopher’s courage, or your mother’s. You can borrow courage from the wisdom of Epictetus or the valor of Theodore Roosevelt. Your father or your friends can all lend you courage. They’ve all been tested. They’ve all faced huge obstacles. You can borrow courage from your teammates, who are prepared to mix it up with the other guys to protect their goalie. You can repay the loan by letting others borrow from you.

Don’t confuse borrowing courage with giving up your belief in your own decisions. You can try to avoid tough challenges by allowing other people to tell you what to do. Coaches, parents, teachers, and friends all have wisdom to share. Do not lose sight of your own wisdom. Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Look well into yourself, there is a source of strength which will always spring up if you will look.” Courage is thinking for yourself.


This is an excerpt from Wise Up: Irreverent Enlightenment from a Mother Who’s Been Through It reproduced by kind permission of the author, Karen Duffy, and her publisher, Seal Press.

Darren Kelsey: Storytelling and Collective Psychology

Darren Kelsey is Reader in Media and Collective Psychology at Newcastle University’s School of Arts and Cultures. Darren’s teaching, research and publications have focused on storytelling, psychology and mythology in media, politics and popular culture. Darren currently lives in County Durham with his wife and daughter.

Darren’s forthcoming book, Storytelling and Collective Psychology: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Life and the Work of Derren Brown, is available for pre-order and will be published in the Spring.

How did you become interested in this area?

Serendipitously! Back in 2018, I was receiving Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for anxiety. CBT hadn’t really clicked for me straight away and I was still adapting to this unfamiliar world of counselling and therapy, which I had never been open to in the past. 

It was then by chance that I stumbled across the magician and psychological illusionist, Derren Brown talking about Stoicism and ancient philosophy on a couple of podcasts. The connections Brown drew between CBT and Stoicism really intrigued me. So I read Brown’s book, Happy

After learning more about Stoicism and understanding how it formed the foundations of CBT, Happy became a recurring talking point with my therapist. I found countless similarities between my thought patterns and Brown’s examples of the stories we tell ourselves and how deeply our stories affect us.

Brown’s work nudged me into a reading marathon on Stoic philosophy: I had soon read the works of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus followed by more recent Stoic endorsements from the likes of Massimo Pigliucci, Donald Robertson, William Irvine and Ryan Holiday. Reflecting on this experience, I wrote a book about Stoicism and Derren Brown in relation to storytelling and collective psychology – showing how Brown’s writing and other performances offer us personal and societal wisdom for modern life and wellbeing.

“Street philosophy” is for everyone – it should help us live well and be taught beyond the corridors of academia.

Darren Kelsey

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

Drawing on what Socrates established prior to the Stoics, I share the principle that “street philosophy” is for everyone – it should help us live well and be taught beyond the corridors of academia. In terms of Stoicism, my teaching shows how philosophy can help us tell better stories for our collective psychology. 

For example, the Stoics teach us to focus on the things that are within our control rather than worrying about what’s beyond our control – seemingly simple, but tricky in practice – give it a try! They also teach us that events themselves do not disturb us, but rather our perception of those events and how we interpret them. 

These things all relate back to the stories we tell ourselves in order to make sense of the noise and confusion of daily life. Derren Brown describes the “infinite data source” that we are constantly bombarded by, and the only way to make sense of anything is through neatly packaged and well edited stories. 

Those stories can cause us problems. The habits we form in our storytelling are where the Stoics critically intervene and make us rethink the narrative. This is one reason why ancient Stoicism bridges gaps between psychology and philosophy – because storytelling is a fundamental part of what makes us human.

Hence, I see the Stoics as ancient mentors who can help us to become better storytellers about our own lives and the lives of others. 

Rather than allowing media and political stories to divide us, we need to find ways of telling stories that foster a sense of collective ownership of our future – and one that enables human flourishing. 

Darren Kelsey

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

To be more sceptical about our stories – as people and societies. So often our personal crises and social conflicts are due to broken stories. 

So much of my own anxiety was due to the fact that I was a terrible storyteller. I could pick apart the stories of others – in media, politics, work and play – but seldom would I stop to question my own stories that were making me so unhappy. Many of those inner stories about myself and my place in the world were unconsciously ruling my life in unhealthy ways. 

Sure, my stories were often based on past experiences that formed my identity and perceptions of the world around me. But they weren’t the only stories that were possible, and my stories about what might happen in the future were nearly always wrong. I realised that my fears made me more uncomfortable than fate itself. In a real crisis I could fix things, but in a future crisis that I was creating in my mind, I was causing myself unnecessary discomfort. 

There are also collective lessons to learn from the Stoics here. If we live in a society that constantly teaches us to be fearful of other social groups, then we live in a state of high alert that encourages tribalism. Instead, through our reason and virtue, the Stoics encourage us to rise above our tribal tendencies and approach other people as if every human belonged to an ideal city, which they called the cosmopolis

Rather than allowing media and political stories to divide us, we need to find ways of telling stories that foster a sense of collective ownership of our future – and one that enables human flourishing. 

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

No, I don’t. The Stoics are so full of wisdom in many different ways. But there are a couple of standout quotes from Marcus Aurelius, which I think encourage kindness, tolerance and compassion in current times – especially when so many people might be struggling to reach out and ask for help:

Don’t be ashamed of needing help. You have a duty to fulfil just like a soldier on the wall of battle. So what if you are injured and can’t climb up without another soldier’s help?

Marcus Aurelius

Reaching out for help doesn’t make us weak, it makes us stronger, and it’s our duty to support each other. As the courageous Helen Keller once said, “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light”.  It takes courage to help and be helped.

Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.

Marcus Aurelius

This is so important. You never know what someone else’s story might be or what baggage they are carrying. It is likely that the things that irritate you in others are characteristics you quietly resent in yourself. 

It is better for everyone if we put more work into fixing our own faults and flaws than criticising them in other people. Easier said than done, I know. But well worth aspiring to. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is darren2.jpg

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

Firstly, take advantage of modern Stoicism. We live in our own digital Athenian marketplace where some of the wisest minds mix among us on podcasts, YouTube, blogs and social media. Engage with this material and listen to conversations about the role of ancient philosophy in modern life, and discover what’s possible for the future. It’s exciting.

Secondly, of course, read the Stoics and enjoy those original texts and translations. Try applying Stoic toolkits in your daily life to learn more about the challenges of seemingly simple virtues that can be harder to stick to than you expect. Learn more about yourself in order to learn about how the philosophy speaks to you. 

Thirdly, a shameless plug: my forthcoming book shows how we can analyse personal and societal stories to understand more about collective psychology in ways that are practical, applicable and evidently beneficial in daily life. Readers will learn how ancient philosophy can be combined with modern psychology to analyse stories and the role of celebrity mentors that we look to for wisdom in modern life. 

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

I would be so excited that I would be anything but Stoic. It would be a great opportunity to explore positive aspects of popular culture and show how the wisdom of ancient philosophy is more accessible and applicable to modern life and future societies than ever before. 


Click here for more works from Darren Kelsey, including published articles.

Darren’s previous books on media and mythology can be found here: 

Mick Mulroy: A Stoic Stand and the Fight for Ukraine

Vitaly Skakun Volodymyrovych

He who does not prevent a crime, when he can, encourages it.

Seneca

The British historian and politician Thomas Macaulay wrote a collection of poems in 1842 called Lays of Ancient Rome. These recount heroic episodes that go beyond the emperors, generals, and senators, to highlight the actions of ordinary footsoldiers, who otherwise would be lost to history.

One of the poems, called Horatius, is about Publius Horatius and two fellow soldiers who were assigned to hold the Sublician Bridge over the Tiber river from the Etruscan Army. These three elected to go forward and fight the enemy, allowing their fellow soldiers the opportunity to dismantle the bridge behind them, sacrificing their lives in the process.

From their President on down, Ukrainians have proven that courage and tenacity, though intangible factors, can have an exponential impact on the battlefield.

Mick Mulroy

This is such a moving poem that many, including Winston Churchhill, memorized every verse. But this type of heroism is not confined to ancient times. It is happening right now in Ukraine. From their President on down, Ukrainians have proven that courage and tenacity, though intangible factors, can have an exponential impact on the battlefield.

Going into battle takes courage. Many of my closest friends and I have done so on many occasions. We always went, though, with overwhelming force on our side. The courage to go into battle wholly outnumbered is of another kind. I believe it exemplifies the type of fortitude that the ancient Stoics held as one of their fundamental principles and cardinal virtues. It is courage in the face of oppression, in defense of liberty, even if death is the most likely outcome.

On February 25, 2022, the Ukrainian government issued a statement that Vitaly Volodymyrovych Skakun, a Ukrainian Marine combat engineer, had voluntarily undertaken a mission to mine the Genichesky Bridge near Kyiv before Russian forces could cross it. Vitaly did not have time to flee the blast zone before detonating the explosives. He informed his battalion, by text message, that he would be blowing it up regardless. He was posthumously awarded the Order of the Gold Star by Ukrainian President President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He became, through his actions, a modern-day Horatius.

To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Then facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods.

Haul down the bridge, Sir Consul,
With all the speed ye may;
I, with two more to help me,
Will hold the foe in play.
In yon strait path a thousand
May well be stopped by three.
Now, who will stand on either hand,
And keep the bridge with me?

This type of heroism needs to leave behind more than a poem; it should inspire action. Ukraine is a young democratic country fighting to hold on to its freedom. Vitaly’s courage, his Stoic stand, is what the free world must remember to ensure that we do not return to the past.

About the author

Michael “Mick” Patrick Mulroy is a retired U.S. Marine, a retired paramilitary operations officer in the CIA’s Special Activities Center, and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East. He is now a national security and defense analyst for ABC News, a senior fellow for national security and defense policy with the Middle East Institute, a co-founder of the Lobo Institute, and on the board of advisors for Plato’s Academy Centre.

Justin Stead: Higher Motives

Justin Stead is the Founder of the Aurelius Foundation, a community interest company. His work with the Foundation is dedicated to helping and inspiring young people by using principles derived from classical Greek philosophy and Stoicism.  Justin is an experienced international CEO/business leader and private investor across multiple brands and interests globally. He is based in London.

How did you become interested in philosophy?

Grateful to be born with a curious mind. Second, I was first introduced to Stoicism through a wonderful Canadian Mystic Christian who was an incredible “man for all seasons” – academic, athlete, poet.  He shared with me some considerations on being “resilient” when I was 14 growing up in west Queensland, Australia during his annual global tour to inspire youth.  We become very good friends, and he kept the fire burning by inspiring me with Stoic knowledge and awareness.

We cannot rely on the external world or governments to necessarily solve all the problems of society.  In this light, people must work at being happy versus seeking pleasure to realign their lives.

Justin Stead

What’s the most important idea that you promote through the Aurelius Foundation?

Positive change in the world and that it takes individuals within society coming forward with the right intentions, through higher motives, to promote the greater good. These higher motives must come from within an individual – they must be developed.  We cannot rely on the external world or governments to necessarily solve all the problems of society.  In this light, people must work at being happy versus seeking pleasure to realign their lives. This in turn will increase greater good contribution by their actions within the wider world they interact with over time.   

As individuals, we often want to improve all aspects of our lives and we do many things to improve them.  For example, if we want to be fit, we go to the gym and start training with a fitness expert.  But, the most important element, in my opinion, to improve life is the development of character; and this is most adequately achieved by daily working on yourself within your own inner citadel gym through the philosophy of Stoicism.

The Aurelius Foundation’s primary objective is to stimulate all people who are so inclined to find us, to consider the development of their own character. This, over time, will not only benefit themselves considerably, but they’ll also see their life increase the contribution to the greater good through their improved Stoic awareness.

Wimbledon Champion Pat Cash speaking at an Aurelius Foundation seminar

What do you think is the best piece of practical advice you could give someone seeking to improve their life?

Become more capital ‘S‘ Stoic sooner in Life. Developing calmness, patience, wisdom earlier in life will save you a lot of wasted time, frustration, emotional pain and unnecessary disappointment throughout the years.

Do you have a favourite philosophy quote?

Yes, and very easy for me. The all-encompassing and most beautiful quote from Marcus Aurelius from the Meditations.  To me, this one quote is a great summation of how to live a GOOD life with Stoicism in its essence. It is a quote that I reflect on most days and try to tie my actions to consistently.

Hour by hour, resolve firmly like a Roman and a man, to do what comes to hand with both correct and natural dignity; allowing yourself the freedom from all other thoughts. This you can do if you approach each action as if it was your last; dismissing the wayward thought, the emotional recoil from the commands of reason, the desire to make an impression, the admiration of self and the discontent with your lot. See how little a man needs to master for his days to flow on in quietness and piety. If you can follow these few principles, the Gods will ask nothing more. 

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 2 – Section 5

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about the Aurelius Foundation?

Follow us.  Interact with us. Get involved with the Aurelius Foundation and all we have going on – we quite innovative! We are incredibly welcoming and engaging for people everywhere – Stoic or not.

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

Delighted to participate and support over the short, medium, and long term. Aurelius Foundation is very committed to this project.   Plato’s Academy is an incredibly important and worthwhile project that will serve humanity everywhere for the improvement of the individual and the greater good globally.

Antonia Macaro: Facilitator of Self-Discovery

Antonia Macaro is an existential psychotherapist, author of More than Happiness: Buddhist and Stoic Wisdom for a Sceptical AgeReason, Virtue and Psychotherapy and co-author of The Shrink and the Sage. She has many years’ clinical experience in the field of addictive behaviours. Antonia also has a degree in Oriental Studies, an MA in Philosophy, and was part of the UK’s philosophical counselling movement from its early days.

Her latest book, Life: a User’s Manual, co-authored with Julian Baggini, is now available.

How did you become interested in philosophy?

I have always been interested in how human beings tick, and over the years I have worked to develop a blend of psychotherapy and philosophy that I see as a primarily ethical enterprise, a context for people to reflect on their values and the good life.

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

I don’t really see myself as a teacher, more as a facilitator of reflection and self-discovery. Aristotle’s idea of “the mean” is an important guiding principle for me but of course what that means in practice, in any given area, has to be worked out in relation to each individual. It’s not just a piece of information to be imparted but something that requires reflection and exploration.

There are no ready-made answers, even from the ancients. Living a good life is an exploratory journey of a lifetime.

Antonia Macaro

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

That there are no ready-made answers, even from the ancients. Living a good life is an exploratory journey of a lifetime. If we are serious about it we will keep learning and questioning, with curiosity. Philosophy may provide us with some fertile ideas but we still have to work out how to apply them to our own life.

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

For example, fear, confidence, appetite, anger, pity, and in general pleasure and pain can be experienced too much or too little, and in both ways not well. But to have them at the right time, about the right things, towards the right people, for the right end, and in the right way, is the mean and best; and this is the business of virtue. Similarly, there is an excess, a deficiency and a mean in actions.

Aristotle, (Nicomachean Ethics)

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

I try to explain how I work in my website. My book More than Happiness: Buddhist and Stoic Wisdom for a Sceptical Age reflects my fundamental approach.

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

It would depend on the event but I would certainly be awed by a deep sense of history and continuity.

Ranjini George: Practicing Presence

Dr. Ranjini George holds a PhD in English Literature from Northern Illinois University, USA, an MA in English Literature from St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi, and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, Canada. More recently, she won the first place in Canada’s inaugural Coffee Shop Author Contest for her travel memoir, a work-in-progress, Miracle of Flowers: In the Footsteps of an Emperor, a Goddess, a Story and a Tiffin-Stall

She was an Associate Professor of English at Zayed University, Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. She currently teaches Stoicism, Mindfulness and Creative Writing at SCS, University of Toronto, classes such as Stoicism and the Good Life, Dear Diary: Marcus Aurelius, Anne Frank and Thich Nhat Hanh, Mindfulness, Stoicism and Writing for Discipline and Productivity, and Meditation and Writing. In 2019, she received the SCS, University of Toronto Excellence in Teaching award. Her book, Through My Mother’s Window: Emirati Women Tell their Stories and Recipes, was published in Dubai in December 2016.

How did you become interested in this philosophy?

My interest in philosophy began with my study of literature at Lady Shri Ram College and at Stephen’s College in New Delhi. I took an MPhil class entitled “Existential and Phenomenological Approaches to Literature,” offered by Professor R.W. Desai. We read Friedrich Nietzsche, Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann, Albert Camus, Soren Kierkegaard and Martin Buber. In an earlier class, also offered by Professor Desai, we read the Transcendentalists and Henry David Thoreau. In my study of Greek literature, I studied Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. My interest in philosophy through the lens of literature continued at graduate school in the US, where I explored the philosophical vision of writers such William Golding and John Steinbeck. Philosophy and literature interested me theoretically, and as a way of understanding the world.  Somewhere along the way, I acquired more than one edition of Marcus’ Meditations.

In the 1990s, when I was living in Middle East, I received a museum-size bust as a gift. The story of “How I got the Bust” is long, one that I tell in my memoir-in-progress, Miracle of Flowers.

The bust perched on a column in my living room in Dubai, remained unidentified for close to nine years. On a visit to the Ancient Agora in Athens, I discovered that he was the Emperor Antoninus Pius, the adoptive father of Marcus Aurelius. With a name, I had a story.

In early 2019, an immigrant to Canada and now living in Toronto, I stumbled upon (and pre-ordered) Donald Robertson’s book How to Think Like a Roman Emperor. As a Buddhist practitioner and teacher, I was especially struck by the similarities between Buddhism and Stoicism. Reading Donald’s book was pivotal in my understanding of Stoicism—of philosophy as a way of life. I reread the Meditations, engaging more deeply with Marcus’ ideas, and Stoicism as a whole.

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

Impermanence and the preciousness of human life.

Earlier today, at 00.00, 22 January 2022, my teacher Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh passed away at his root temple in Hue, Vietnam. Memorial services are underway, live streamed from Vietnam and the Plum Village retreat center in France.

Socrates calls death, the “bogeyman.” Marcus talks of death repeatedly. The Buddha tells us to remind ourselves of our death not just every day but every moment. Some find this morbid. I find it invigorating, a reminder to make good use of my “precious human life.”

Seneca says, “Each day is a life.” There is nothing more important than living with the awareness that we will die.

“This is it.” Thich Nhat Hanh said. The present moment is all we have. 

The Dalai Lama says that it is not important whether we are religious or not. What is important is to cultivate warm-heartedness, kindness, wisdom and compassion. We learn how to cultivate peace and happiness (eudaimonia). Daily, we raise “bodhchitta,” which is the aspiration to benefit others because, as Marcus reminds us in the Meditations, we are interconnected, one body; or, to use Thich Nhat Hanh’s phrase, we “inter-are.” 

Yet, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, there is “No birth. No death. Only Continuation.” We are the continuation of those who inspire us to live well. Now, my teacher is not in the form that I knew him. He is the cloud that has become rain. He is in my mindfulness practice—in my in-breath and out-breath. Marcus died 1900 years before. Yet, we meet him on the page. He is a voice that echoes through space and time, a friend and mentor, inspiring us to live well.

In Book One of The Meditations, Marcus acknowledges his gratitude to his parents, his tutors, adoptive father, Antoninus Pius, and so on. He was aware that those he thanked had flaws. Our role models are not perfect, but we can be grateful for their example and learn from them. Having this sense of sangha or community is helpful. We will not feel alone on this path—we travel with those who have come before, those who live now, and our friends in the future.  

Practice daily that which is in alignment with your core values. Remind yourself of what kind of human being you aspire to be and what work you would like to accomplish in this world.

Dr. Ranjini George

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

Practice. Practice. Practice.

As Seneca reminds us, “Each day is a life.” Practice daily that which is in alignment with your core values. Remind yourself of what kind of human being you aspire to be and what work you would like to accomplish in this world.

Whatever we practice, we become better at. Practice giving in to anger, and you will be become an angry person. Practice kindness, and you will grow kinder. Practice strengthens our muscle of self-discipline as we direct it towards values that we cherish. We may not feel like it. But we do it anyway.

In my Memoir as Spiritual Practice and Meditation and Writing classes, I teach that writing is a practice. Meditation is a practice.

For over two decades, I have kept a journal. This is my way of living an examined life. Every morning I write three or four pages (sometimes more) in longhand—as Julia Cameron recommends. Drawing from the Golden Verses of Pythagoras, I ask myself each day: What did I do (accomplish)? What did I omit? What could I have done better (more skilfully)?

We bring prosoche (attention) to our days, our time. As Thich Nhat Hanh writes, Time=Life. As we bring our attention to time, we begin to master time. We make time our ally, our friend. We use what time we’ve been given, and we use it well.

Change happens slowly and can be difficult. Enduring change requires intention, contemplation, review, and self-discipline. We ground our efforts in our “view.” Why are we doing this? For example, if I’m trying to lose weight and I stop myself from reaching for a second cookie, instead of feeling deprived, I could reframe that moment as one of practicing the Stoic virtue of temperance. A feeling of deprivation is then reframed as joyful effort. The same goes with writing. Even if the Muse feels distant, I’m here at my desk, exercising the virtue of discipline and creativity, and doing my work as a human being. 

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

So what can serve as our escort and our guide? One thing and one thing alone, philosophy; and that consists in keeping the guardian-spirit within us inviolate and free from harm.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.17

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

Much of what I write and teach has come through my own struggle to live my life well. For example, I struggled with feeling overworked and overwhelmed. I struggled with fixating on outcome instead of enjoying the present moment of creativity. So, I researched topics such as discipline and tried to understand where my stumbling blocks of perfectionism and procrastination stemmed from. I studied with teachers from different wisdom traditions who warned about the suffering of egoic fixation. So much of our suffering comes from our feeling of separation from others and our incessant craving for more.

A long-time practitioner of meditation, I brought this research and training to my writing practice. My classes at the School of Continuing Studies, University of Toronto, classes such as Mindfulness, Stoicism and Writing for Discipline and Productivity, come from personal experience and my concentrated research and study in these areas.  My classes are open to everyone and many of them are offered online and include guest visits from internationally renowned philosophers and writers such as Donald Robertson, Eric Weiner, Charlie Gilkey, Kij Johnson, Mark Matousek, Rob Colter and so on. These classes can be taken toward a Creative Writing, Arts and Humanities or Mindfulness certificate, or as a one-off class.

If you are interested in my writing, a few of my stories are accessible online. “Taj Mahal and Petha”, deals with female infanticide, and was published in Agni, Boston University literary magazine. Recently I had an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Blue Flowers, published in Stoicism Today. I also have a number of free podcasts, meditations and interviews on the subjects of Stoicism, meditation and writing on my website. My book Through my Mother’s Window: Emirati Women Tell their Stories and Recipes brings Dubai, its food, stories and landscape to life. The book can be ordered online.

I am happy to say that I am offering the first Stoicism course in the Arts and Humanities stream at SCS, University of Toronto, Stoicism and the Good Life

I’ve added on other courses that have been a delight to teach, such as Dear Diary: Marcus Aurelius, Anne Frank and Thich Nhat Hanh.

Suppose you were able to give a talk or workshop at the original location of Plato’s Academy… 

It would be a delight and honor to give a talk or workshop at the place where so much of what I love and treasure began. As we gather and discuss philosophy, we become the continuation of some of the greatest minds who walked this planet: Plato, Socrates, Zeno, and so many others. It was here that Western philosophy began.

In October 2019, on a visit to Greece for the Modern Stoicon conference, I first visited the ruins of Plato’s Academy. I did not imagine that one day philosophers would gather here again, as they once had centuries ago.

On one of the Plato Academy videos, Donald mentions the American actor and director Sam Wanamaker who in 1970 saw that the site of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre was marked by a tarnished plaque on a brewery. Wanamaker took it upon himself to initiate the restoration of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre and today plays are performed there.

One day, fate permitting, this will be true of Plato’s Academy. The impossible can be made possible through intention and effort. I thank all those involved in this visionary and historic undertaking.

To find out more about Dr. Ranjini George

The Kuan Yin Story Cafe

The Writing Stoa

Twitter

Ward Farnsworth on the Socratic Method

Ward Farnsworth

Ward Farnsworth is the dean of the University of Texas School of Law and holds the John Jeffers Research Chair in Law. He is the author of books on law, rhetoric, and philosophy, including The Practising Stoic.

“…the Socratic style of thought is what our culture needs right now. It’s an antidote to social media and to the toxic state of our politics.”

Ward Farnsworth

You’ve written a book called The Socratic Method. Why?

Two reasons. First, the Socratic style of thought is what our culture needs right now. It’s an antidote to social media and to the toxic state of our politics. Despite the fame of Socrates, though, most people nowadays don’t have a very clear idea of what his method was. It deserves better. It’s one of the great legacies of the classical world, and it’s useful for everyone. The book explains how it works.

What are the aspects of the Socratic Method that you think the culture needs so much?

For one thing, humility. The Socratic Method is a process of asking hard questions but also of welcoming disagreement. Socrates wasn’t said to be the wisest person in Athens because he had answers to the big questions. He was the wisest because he knew he didn’t have them.

Socrates also gives us helpful rules for good dialogue—things like saying what you really think, trying not to give offense but also not taking offense, and showing charity when you interpret what others say. I’ve proposed twelve Socratic rules of engagement, which you can download and read.

Ward Farnsworth, The Socratic Method
Ward Farnsworth, The Socratic Method

You said there were two reasons for writing The Socratic Method. What’s the other?

A few years ago, I wrote a book called The Practicing Stoic. It’s about the practical teachings that Stoicism has to offer and what the different ancient philosophers said about them. This book is a prequel to that one. It tells the origin story of Stoicism.

The approach that Socrates took to reasoning, and the conclusions he reached, are the start of Stoic philosophy. So, if you like Stoicism, learning about Socrates will help you understand it better. It takes you back to the roots.

Socratic dialogue is mostly an effort to test your consistency—to see if your surface reactions to things can be squared with what else you know and think.

Ward Farnsworth

What are some examples of how Socrates influenced the Stoics?

Socrates was a hero and model to the Stoics. They viewed his attitude toward his death and other attacks as examples of one of their key ideas—that things are made good or bad by how we think about them and handle them.

The idea that virtue is the only really good thing is another that they got from Socrates. And Socratic dialogue is mostly an effort to test your consistency—to see if your surface reactions to things can be squared with what else you know and think. That was the approach Epictetus used in his classroom, too. Epictetus was a great teacher, and he regarded Socrates as his teacher.

Do you see the Socratic Method as useful apart from teaching?

Yes, its real use for most of us isn’t for teaching or putting questions to other people. It’s a way to think. That’s the spirit in which Plato offered it. Socrates says in the dialogues that thinking—at least good thinking—is like an internal conversation. You have a skeptical dialogue with yourself.

That’s the best way to look at the Socratic method. It’s a discipline for the mind and a path toward wisdom, even if it also helps us see that we’ll never get all the way there.