The Art of Dying: Philosophy & Death virtual conference
The Art of Dying: Philosophy and Death, our upcoming virtual symposium, promises an extraordinary journey into the depths of human existence. Here, we proudly present a stellar lineup of speakers who will guide you through a profound exploration of life’s most intricate facets, particularly the enigma of death. These leading authors and compassionate psychotherapists are poised to share their wisdom, offering insights that will empower you to embrace mortality with grace and profound understanding.
This symposium beckons those with a thirst for introspection and philosophical inquiry. Together, we will confront the universal experience of death, a concept that has both intrigued and unnerved humanity for centuries. Through the profound wisdom of philosophy, we will seek answers to life’s most profound questions, reshaping our perspectives and inviting a deeper understanding of the mysteries of existence.
Our mission is always to promote philosophy as a way of life, making it accessible to all. This is why all of our events are free of charge. However, you may also donate an amount of your choosing. Your generosity keeps us hosting events like these. Donations also go towards the development of a PAC on-site location near the original Plato’s Academy in Akadimia Platonos, Athens.
Check out our current lineup of speakers!
Tim Freke is the author of The Jesus Mysteries and Soul Story. He will be speaking on “The Evolution of Immortality”.
Dr. Rachel Menzies, author of Mortals: How the Fear of Death Shaped Human Society, will be speaking on “Accepting death: The key to psychological equanimity”.
Tim LeBon, Cognitive Behavioral Therapist and author of 365 Ways to Be More Stoic,will be speaking on “Seneca and the Shortness of Life”.
Dr. Kate Hammer, existential psychotherapist, author of Joyful Stoic Death Writing, and Kathryn Koromilas, creator of the 28 Days of Joyful Death Writing with the Stoics programme, will be presenting together: “The Forays to Face Finitude: Stoic contemplation, communitas, & creative action”.
Dr. Scott Waltman, author of Socratic Questioning for Therapists and Counselors and The Stoicism Workbook, will be speaking on “Socrates: Fearless in the Face of Death”.
Michael Fontaine, author of How to Grieve: An Ancient Guide to the Lost Art of Consolation (Cicero) will present “Cicero on Grieving the Death of a Child”.
Prof. Michael Cholbi is the Executive Director of the International Association for the Philosophy of Death and Dying and author of Grief: A Philosophical Guide. His presentation will be on “Grief in Ancient Philosophy: Stoic Self-sufficiency or Aristotelian Interdependence?”
Join us in this intellectual and emotional adventure, as we also explore the complexities of grief and loss, offering practical guidance and emotional support. Our aim is to help you find solace and resilience, ultimately inspiring a life rich in purpose and fulfillment. Instead of fearing death, we will celebrate it as an illuminating milestone on the path to a meaningful existence. You are invited to join kindred spirits on this transformative journey, forging connections that will endure long after the symposium concludes, enriching your understanding of life and providing solace in the face of life’s uncertainties.
If you know someone who could use some practical advice for coping with death, or even their own mortality, please share the link below:
How can we transform the energy of anger, fear, and sadness into actions that contribute to personal growth and the betterment of society?
Anger, fear, and sadness are emotions are deeply ingrained in our human nature and are experienced by everyone, across every culture and background. However, what we all share is the ability to navigate and manage these emotions. Seneca held that by embracing the concept of virtue, practicing self-reflection, and accepting the impermanence of external circumstances, we can find tranquility and maintain emotional equilibrium amidst the storms of life existence.
Accordingly, some wise men have said that anger is a brief Madness: for it’s no less lacking in self-control, forgetful of decency, unmindful of personal ties, unrelentingly intent on its goal, shut off from rational deliberation, stirred for no substantial reason, unsuited to discerning what’s fair and true, just like a collapsing building that’s reduced to rubble even as it crushes what it falls upon.
Seneca, On Anger
Seneca viewed anger as a useless emotion that accomplishes nothing. He stated that “No plague has cost the human race more” than anger, harming both the person who feels it and those who are subjected to it. He believed that the path to overcoming anger lies in cultivating virtue, particularly the virtues of patience, self-control, and forgiveness. He encouraged developing philosophical outlook on life that helps us rise above anger-inducing situations.
…we suffer more often in imagination than in reality….Accordingly, some things torment us more than they ought; some torment us before they ought; and some torment us when they ought not to torment us at all. We are in the habit of exaggerating, or imagining, or anticipating, sorrow.
Seneca, On Groundless Fear
Seneca recognized fear as a natural and instinctive emotion that arises in response to perceived threats or dangers. He also acknowledged that fear is a common human experience but believed that it can be managed and overcome through reason. True courage, he believed, is not the absence of fear but rather the ability to act in the face of fear. He encouraged confronting it and taking action despite its presence, as inaction only perpetuates and reinforces fear; realizing too that most of it comes from our own thoughts and interpretations of external events.
No one will bring back the years, no one will restore you to yourself. Life will follow the path it began to take, and will neither reverse nor check its course. It will cause no commotion to remind you of its swiftness, but glide on quietly.
Seneca, On Consolation
Seneca held that living in the present moment was vital to our happiness and well-being, not allowing past or future events to burden us with sadness. He encouraged individuals to concentrate their attention on the here and now, rather than dwelling excessively on past regrets or uncertain future outcomes. Sadness should never be denied, he believed, but rather accepted and allowed to run its course; making constructive use of the time whilst deriving wisdom from the experience, becoming better people as a result.
Don’t miss this opportunity to gain invaluable insights from Seneca’s wisdom and discover practical approaches for managing the anger, fear, and sadness that every one of us experiences.
Engage in discussions with authors and academics in Stoic philosophy and the teachings of Seneca:
David Fideler, editor of the Stoic Insights website, author ofBreakfast with Seneca and Restoring the Soul of the World: Our Living Bond with Nature’s Intelligence
Lalya Lloyd, writer and classicist, Eton College, University College School
Margaret Graver, Professor of Classics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, author of Stoicism and Emotion and Seneca: The Literary Philosophe
James S. Romm, James H. Ottaway Jr. Professor of Classics at Bard College, author of Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero andeditor of How to Die: An Ancient Guide to the End of Life (Seneca)
Christopher Star, Associate Professor of Classics at Middlebury College, Vermont, author of Seneca and The Empire of the Self: Self-Command and Political Speech in Seneca.
More to be announced!
Hosted by Donald Robertson and Anya Leonard of Classical Wisdom
This is event free to register. You may also donate an amount of your choosing. Your generosity keeps us hosting these events. Donations also go towards the development of an on-site PAC location near the original Plato’s Academy in Akadimia Platonos, Athens.
There is no need to worry if you are unavailable on the day. A recording post-event will be sent to all registered attendees.
Seneca’s philosophy offers invaluable guidance in managing the universal emotions of anger, fear, and sadness. By cultivating virtues like patience, self-control, courage and forgiveness, we can rise above and empower ourselves. Join the On Seneca: Anger, Fear, and Sadness virtual event to gain practical insights and discover effective ways to navigate these emotions.
This week we celebrate Prof. Nancy Sherman, her works and her valuable contribution to modern philosophy. We’re truly honored to have her on our board of advisors. PAC also wishes to celebrate the paperback release of Sherman’s Stoic Wisdom: Ancient Lessons for Modern Resilience (Oxford University Press)—releasing June 1st, now available for preorder!
How do we find calm in times of stress and uncertainty? How do we cope with sudden losses or find meaning in a world that can easily rob us of what we most value? Drawing on the wisdom of Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and others, Nancy Sherman’s Stoic Wisdom presents a compelling, modern Stoicism that teaches grit, resilience, and the importance of close relationships in addressing life’s biggest and smallest challenges.
A renowned expert in ancient and modern ethics, Sherman relates how Stoic methods of examining beliefs and perceptions can help us correct distortions in what we believe, see, and feel. Her study reveals a profound insight about the Stoics: They never believed, as Stoic popularizers often hold, that rugged self-reliance or indifference to the world around us is at the heart of living well. We are at home in the world, they insisted, when we are connected to each other in cooperative efforts. We build resilience and goodness through our deepest relationships. Bringing ancient ideas to bear on 21st century concerns―from workers facing stress and burnout to first responders in a pandemic, from soldiers on the battlefield to citizens fighting for racial justice―Sherman shows how Stoicism can help us fulfill the promise of our shared humanity. In nine lessons that combine ancient pithy quotes and daily exercises with contemporary ethics and psychology, Stoic Wisdom is a field manual for the art of living well.
Nancy Sherman goes far beyond the kind of ‘pen-and-ink philosophy’ that the Stoics had so little time for. In this book, she applies Stoicism where it is most needed–for our warriors and working people alike–and helps them become better and more resilient.
—Ryan Holiday, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Daily Stoic and Stillness is the Key
For practicing Stoics like Seneca, not yet wise but committed to moral progress, sharing in reason is equally an emotionally laden experience, exemplified in supportive friendships, including epistolary relationships. In the Letters on Ethics, we have a record. We read of Seneca’s excitement in sending off a letter and his eagerness in receiving a response, his consolations in grief, his disclosures of his own suffering, his reports of the trivia of the day, and his earnest aspirations to constancy and wisdom. We get a sense of solidarity and empathy meant to sustain each side in hard times.
Seneca writes these letters in the last few years of his life, in political retirement, with mortality and the enmity of Nero on his mind. Anxiety and the search for calm swirl on the pages. There is a retreat away from externals to the inner life. But it is done with a friend. “When I devote myself to friends, I do not even then withdraw from myself.”
Paragons from history are part of the support system. We needn’t restrict our friends to the living, insists Seneca. Inspiration comes from the giants of the past—Socrates demonstrating his steadfastness to his philosophical principles in his death, Cato’s cleaving to the path of virtue in the face of political ambition, Scipio and Cincinnatus in exemplary military leadership. The demigod Hercules cuts a more complicated figure, as we shall soon see. For although exceptional, his glory-seeking makes for a toxic and unstable mix, however arduous his struggles.
Seneca tells us that the sage rises only as often as the phoenix, every 500 years or so. For critics, a sage so rare is too daunting a model to be emulated. But a sage who shows emotions and who also can be clothed in concrete, historical detail is a way to make what’s godly earthly. And that is a part of the Stoic strategy for resilience—we are to visualize exemplary models, including divine ones, who can teach us how to face adversity.
This is just what Seneca’s contemporary Philo does in his Hellenistic commentary on the Old Testament. Once again, imagine the moment when Sarah nervously laughed to herself in learning that she would give birth to a child. How does surprise, and frankly fear and disbelief, at being able to conceive at such an old age move from trepidation to joy? Sarah, as Stoic matriarch, demonstrates how it’s possible to loosen the grip of emotions that make her “stagger and shake” and come to feel steadier ones that bring inner calm and joy. There are no pointers here about technique. What we get is an example of hope: how anxiety about a most improbable and dangerous birth can gradually shift to trust in a higher authority and equanimity. That is the Stoic Bible lesson.
Connections with real or allegorical figures from the past, and friendships in the present, are social elements in building Stoic grit. Seneca’s letters are addressed to his younger friend, Gaius Lucilius Iunior. The letters are undisguised moral counsel, but they do their work through rapport building. There are no known return letters from Lucilius. This is a literary art form. Still, Lucilius’s presence is on the page in questions and answers, news about him from mutual friends, a relationship built through the imagined to and fro of anticipated and received letters. “Every time a letter comes . . . I am with you.” Seneca has his eye on posterity here—merited praise that he has “been the cause of good” of others. If glory lives on through these letters, it’s in part in the record of how the Stoics teach through a relationship, and continue to do so.
Nancy Sherman, a prominent philosopher, author, and professor, holds a special place in the world of ethics, moral psychology, and Stoicism. Her profound contributions have illuminated the understanding and practicality of ancient Stoic philosophy in our modern lives, with a particular focus on military ethics and the profound moral dimensions of war.
Within the pages of her remarkable book, Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy Behind the Military Mind published in 2005, Nancy Sherman delves into the profound connections between Stoic philosophy and the virtues essential to the military. In her exploration, she reveals how Stoic teachings possess the power to shape character, foster resilience, and guide ethical decision-making within the crucible of war and military service.
Yet, Nancy Sherman’s impact extends far beyond the confines of academia. Her extensive writings on moral injury, which encapsulates the psychological and moral anguish stemming from actions conflicting with one’s deeply held moral principles, have shed light on a critical aspect of human experience. In her poignant work, The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of Our Soldiers, she delves into the profound moral and psychological challenges faced by soldiers in the aftermath of war, offering a glimmer of hope and the possibility of healing.
As a revered professor, Nancy Sherman has imparted her wisdom on philosophy and ethics to countless minds at Georgetown University, where she held the esteemed Distinguished Chair in Ethics. Furthermore, her invaluable service as a faculty member at the United States Naval Academy has allowed her to forge deep connections with military personnel, providing them with indispensable guidance and profound insights into the realms of moral resilience, moral injury, and military ethics.
Nancy Sherman’s remarkable contributions have solidified her as a revered figure within the realm of philosophy, leaving an indelible mark on the field. Her profound exploration of Stoic philosophy, particularly in relation to ethics and military virtues, has enriched our understanding of ancient wisdom and its practical application in modern life.
Through her extensive writings on moral injury and the psychological challenges faced by soldiers, Sherman has illuminated critical aspects of human experience, highlighting the profound moral dimensions of war and the path to healing. Her invaluable teachings and guidance have shaped the minds of countless individuals, fostering a deeper appreciation for philosophy’s role in shaping character, resilience, and ethical decision-making, solidifying her significance in the world of philosophy.
Thank you, Professor Sherman.
Nancy Sherman is a distinguished university professor and professor of philosophy at Georgetown University. She was also the inaugural Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the United States Naval Academy.
As the dust settles on our post pandemic world, it finds itself grappling with widespread social unrest and pervasive economic uncertainty, in conjunction with our everyday struggles as individuals. It is here that the marriage of ancient wisdom and therapy emerges as a guiding light, offering timeless insights into the human condition. By weaving together the principles of therapy and ancient philosophy, we can embark on a transformative journey of self-discovery and emerge more resilient.
The Greek word “therapeia” (θεραπεία) is derived from the Greek verb “therapeuo” (θεραπεύω), which means “to serve” or “to attend to.” The ancient Greeks believed the interconnectedness of the mind, body, and spirit, and therapy encompassed all aspects of holistic healing. Within Greek mythology, the gods themselves were often associated with therapeutic practices. For example, Apollo, the Greek god of healing, was often invoked for the restoration of physical and mental health. So, therapeia was sometimes used to describe the activities carried out in Apollo’s temples, where individuals sought healing through prayer, offerings, and ritual practices.
Therapy and ancient philosophy share a common goal: the pursuit of inner harmony and eudaimonia, or flourishing. Ancient philosophers believed that true happiness and fulfillment came not from external circumstances but from cultivating virtues and aligning one’s actions with one’s values. In a similar vein, therapy aims to help individuals find a sense of meaning and purpose, develop self-compassion, and build resilience in the face of life’s challenges.
Stoicism offers particularly relevant insights in the context of therapy. It teaches individuals to distinguish between what is within their control and what is not, and to focus their energy on the former. The philosophy also emphasizes the importance of accepting life’s uncertainties, managing emotions, and cultivating a sense of gratitude. These Stoic principles can be integrated into therapy to help individuals navigate difficulties, develop resilience, and foster a sense of tranquility amid the storms of life.
Stoicism and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Stoicism and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) share several similarities and have a significant relationship. CBT is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on the connections between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, aiming to identify and modify negative patterns of thinking and behavior. Stoicism, on the other hand, is a philosophy of life and emphasizes the importance of reason, virtue, and acceptance of the things we cannot control. The main goal of Stoic-therapy is apatheia (ἀπάθεια) which is freedom from being bound to our irrational passions such as anger, fear, or sadness.
The relationship between Stoicism and CBT lies in their shared principles and practices. They both highlight the role of our thoughts in shaping our emotions and behaviors; and recognize that it is not external events themselves that cause distress, but rather our interpretation and perception of those events. Both approaches emphasize the power of examining and challenging our thoughts and beliefs to foster healthier emotional and behavioral responses.
For example, the Stoic notion of “cognitive distancing” encourages individuals to step back from their immediate reactions and consider alternative interpretations of events, which is similar to CBT’s technique of cognitive restructuring. Stoicism also encourages individuals to focus on what is within their control, while accepting that there are things outside their control, aligning with CBT’s emphasis on identifying and changing the aspects of a situation that can be influenced.
“Sometimes Stoicism can help dramatically. In 365 Ways, we give the example of one man whose life was turned around when he heard about the dichotomy of control and the Serenity Prayer. For the previous decade his life had been ruined by focusing on past misfortunates over which he had no control. The DOC helped him realize that he had a choice – to stay in the past or move forward.
People struggling with long-term health conditions can be helped by similar ideas. They can’t control the fact that they have a particular condition but they can control how they respond to it.
Seneca’s short work On Anger contains so many valuable ideas and memorable phrases. It’s common to hear people to say that you need anger to fight injustice. ‘No!’, reply Seneca and the Stoics, you need courage and wisdom to do this, not anger.
Perhaps the biggest impact though is with people suffering from anger and frustration. Seneca’s short work On Anger contains so many valuable ideas and memorable phrases. It’s common to hear people say that you need anger to fight injustice. No!, reply Seneca and the Stoics, you need courage and wisdom to do this, not anger. The red mist obscures your ability to see things properly and fairly. Or, as Seneca puts it
The sword of justice is ill-placed in the hands of an angry person
In this period of flux and unpredictability, CBT teaches a range of coping skills, such as relaxation techniques, mindfulness, and stress management. These strategies help individuals develop healthier ways of dealing with stress and adversity, reducing the negative impact on their resilience. It also offers constructive strategies to overcome our limits and fears, rooted in false beliefs, that inhibit us from moving forward in life. Behavioral modification in CBT encourages individuals to engage in activities that promote well-being and build resilience. By gradually increasing exposure to challenging situations, individuals can develop confidence and adaptive responses, strengthening their resilience over time.
It is FREE to register. However, you also have the option of donating an amount of your choosing. Your generosity keeps us putting on these events. Donations also go towards the development of an on-site location near the original site of Plato’s Academy in Akademia Platonos, Athens.
Plato’s Library will consist of bi-weekly posts containing exclusive excerpts from recent and forthcoming books on ancient philosophy, and related subjects. We have carefully selected this passages in consultation with publishers to give you a taste of the high-value content written by leading experts in the field. Some of these passages are advance previews from books that are not yet published — so you get a sneak peek at forthcoming titles. The Plato’s Academy Centre have been able to arrange this especially for our Substack subscribers because of our strong links with senior figures in the publishing industry.
Full access to this column is for our paying subscribers only, but free subscribers will receive brief previews of the content. Below you’ll find links to three of the excerpts recently published. Please comment on Substack, letting us and the authors know what you think. Thank you, once again, for your support. The Plato’s Academy Centre is a nonprofit organization. We wouldn’t be able to achieve our goals without you, our loyal subscribers!
Thank you for reading Plato’s Academy Centre Newsletter. This post is public so feel free to share it.
Below you can read an exclusive excerpt courtesy of Princeton University Press from Michael Fontaine’s new book, How to Tell a Joke: An Ancient Guide to the Art of Humor. Is it possible for jokes to win over a hostile room, a seemingly unwinnable argument, or even an election? According to Cicero, the answer is a resounding yes.
This is an excerpt from Plato’s Republic: A Ladybird Expert Book reproduced by kind permission of the author, Prof. Angie Hobbs, and her publisher, Penguin. Philosophers, sophists, and alternative facts Why is Plato so committed to the existence of knowledge? Why is he not prepared to countenance the possibility that humans might have to withhold judgement?
How would you like to learn to be more Stoic? The latest book from Tim LeBon, research director of Modern Stoicism and cognitive-behavioral therapist, is called 365 Ways to Be More Stoic. So, what, according to the Stoics, is under our direct control? Less than most of us think… The problem is we spend so much time trying to control other things.
Plato’s Academy Centre is honored to welcome author William O. Stephens as a guest speaker at our event commemorating Marcus Aurelius’ birthday, Marcus Aurelius Anniversary on Wed, April 26th—featuring Donald Robertson and Dr. John Sellars. The event is a symposium that will examine, discuss, and celebrate the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, as well as its practical relevance in today’s world.
William O. Stephens holds the title of Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Creighton University in Nebraska and specializes in various fields such as ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, ethics, animals, and the environment. He is an accomplished author with a focus on philosophy, having written several books including Marcus Aurelius: A Guide for the Perplexed, Stoic Ethics: Epictetus and Happiness as Freedom, and Epictetus’s ‘Enchiridion’: A New Translation and Guide to Stoic Ethics. Additionally, he has an interest in Stoicism as a way of life, as well as Stoicism’s relationship with popular culture.
Plato’s Academy Centre invites all individuals to participate in a complimentary virtual event held on Wed April 26th in honor of Marcus Aurelius’ birthday. Even if you cannot attend the live event, you can register now and receive a link to the recorded video.
Plato’s Academy Centre Newsletter is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
While the event is free, donations to support the nonprofit Plato’s Academy Centre are welcome and greatly appreciated. Your contribution will aid in the organization and execution of similar events in the future.
Join our free virtual event on 26th April, to mark the birthday of the Stoic philosopher
You are invited to join our special symposium on the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, the famous Stoic Roman Emperor. This virtual event, hosted by The Plato’s Academy Centrewill take place on 26th April, to commemorate his birthday. Register today, via EventBrite, and join Donald Robertson and Dr. John Sellars, as they discuss what we can learn from the Stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius to improve our lives today, in the modern world.
John is an academic philosopher, currently a Reader in Philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London, a Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College London. He is also the chair of Modern Stoicism, and on the board of the Aurelius Foundation. Donald and John have both written several books about Stoicism, including recent ones on Marcus Aurelius.
John is the author of Marcus Aurelius for Routledge’s Philosophy in the Ancient World series, wrote an introduction for Farquharson’s translation of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius for Macmillan Collector’s Library, and he is the editor of the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. Donald has written three books on Marcus Aurelius: How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, a self-help book based on him; Verissimus, a graphic novel about his life; and the forthcoming biography of him for Yale University Press’ Ancient Lives series.
This event is completely free of charge, but you can donate to our nonprofit if you want to help us to continue providing similar events in the future. Not available or in a different time zone? Don’t worry as recordings of all presentationswill be provided afterwards if you book your tickets now.
In today’s society, it seems like we are living in a world that is becoming increasingly polarized. This division can be seen in politics, social issues, and even personal beliefs. This growing divide is not only concerning, but it also has the potential to have disastrous consequences. The question then becomes, what can we do to save rational discourse and bring civility back into the conversation?
AtHow Can We Save Rational Discourse, top academics and authors will come together to discuss how we can use philosophy to bring civility and rational discourse back into the political arena. The event will explore questions such as how philosophy can help us understand the roots of political polarization, how it can be used to bridge divides, and how it can help us develop more nuanced and thoughtful approaches to policy issues. This event on March 11th provides a unique opportunity to explore how philosophy can help us to do just that.
This is the last chance to register for the event, so don’t miss out on being a part of this important conversation!
A few comments from our last event
“Plato Academy’s virtual events are a pleasure to watch. I learn so much, so fast!”
“Ancient philosophy for modern leadership is a critical event for today’s leaders to show how some challenges are persisting throughout the ages and that virtue, in contrast to profits, is timeless. I’d recommend it to every leader and manager who wants to achieve positive social impact.”
If you’re finding it challenging to handle the highly divisive and polarizing nature of politics, rest assured that you’re not alone. We encourage you to advocate for the principles of composed, reasoned, and constructive discussions with individuals who are significant to you, including your family, friends, or coworkers. (Simply enter NODONATION if you don’t wish to donate to the nonprofit.)
Mark Tuitert is a former Dutch speed skating champion. He won gold at the 1500m at the 2010 Winter Olympics. He is now a public speaker, podcaster, and author. Mark is the author of the book DRIVE: Train je stoïcijnse mindset, from Maven Publishing, due to be translated into English as DRIVE: Train your stoic mindset in 2023.
[This interview was transcribed by Kasey Robertson from audio provided by Mark Tuitert]
How did you become interested in philosophy?
As a teenage boy, I was really interested in history. I loved it, in fact. I was always curious as to how history played out and why things happened the way they did, why historical figures made the choices they did etc. Wars of the last century intrigued me but also the classical age. The Romans and the Greeks particularly fascinated me.
When I was 20 years old, I became really ambitious and focused on professional sports. I was one of the big talents in speed skating. So, I pursued my dream of wanting to become an Olympic champion. I signed a big contract and I had a lot of media requests, so I was the new rising star leading up to the Olympics of Salt Lake City in 2002.
On the other hand, I was also struggling at home. My parents were having a rough divorce, constantly fighting. As the eldest of three boys, and because I loved my family, I tried to take charge and intervene thinking I could stop it. However, the harder I tried the worse it seemed to get.
I wanted to release all of this pent-up negative emotion, so I trained harder. I trained relentlessly, thinking that I could cope better by proving myself, but I wound up overtraining. So, in 2002, during the Olympic Games at Salt Lake City, I laid in my bed sick. I laid there for probably 6 months. I simply could not train, and so I was forced to rest. I began to hear whispers in my world of sports like, “It’s the end of his career” and “We won’t be seeing him back again…” To me, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I knew I had to do something about this. So I thought, “I’ll just train even harder! Yeah, that’s it…”
When I’m in the tunnel of training hard, I put blinders on that block everything else out. I knew I was fooling myself, though. I was seeing things from an unhealthy perspective, and my life and health were reflections of that. That’s when I found philosophy. I wanted to learn how to achieve balance in my life, to make the right choices, be a good person, live a good life, but still keep my ambition and pursue my dream of being a successful speed skater.
I found that Stoic philosophy helped me in all areas of my life, both personal and career. I now view all facets of my life through a Stoic lens. Yes, I had looked into other schools of philosophy but the Stoics really inspired me most. They helped me find a stronghold in the storm of life and I love it.
What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people?
I teach a couple of concepts, but I think the most important concept is about anger. Many people have expressed that they related to my feeling anger towards my father, and how it was unknowingly keeping me back.
I had missed a few Olympics by 2006, my goal was to win a medal…but I didn’t get there. I wasn’t reaching my full potential somehow. I didn’t skate the way I should and it became quite unsettling. Determined to find what this roadblock was, I dug deep within myself. That’s when I realized that it was my deep-seated anger that was holding me back; my anger towards my father for the agonizing divorce from my mother. However, viewing the situation again through a Stoic lens, I could see that I needed to separate how I felt about him from the divorce. I held onto the initial reaction, though, and I had a hard time moving forward because of that.
One of the greatest Stoic philosophers puts it beautifully: “When we are frustrated, angry or unhappy, never hold anyone except ourselves – that is, our judgments – accountable” and “It is not events that disturb us but our judgements about them.” If you have an event, something that happens to you and it provokes an emotion, we accept the initial emotion as how we truly feel and adopt it as truth. But that’s the wrong way of thinking. There’s something in between judgment and the event, and that’s your own opinion. What a powerful concept. For me, the event was the divorce of my parents fighting each other while my emotion was anger towards my father. But in between is my opinion, or my judgment about my father.
Once I found the source of my personal and professional hindrance, I asked myself what are the judgements I currently have about my father? Well, he was a bad father. The next question was, are you a better father today than he was then? Also, do you know what it’s like not to have contact for 6 years with your sons? I strive to be a better father, but also no, I don’t know what it’s like to not have contact with my children for 6 years. However, I’m the one who chose not to have that contact. So, instead of judging, I think it’s wiser to try to understand, to ask good questions and suspend judgment like Socrates would.
I promote this example in my talks and in my book, Train Your Stoic Mindset. My goal is to teach people to separate their judgements from the event, much like Epictetus. For separating our own judgements from the events that occur in our lives helps us achieve clarity, allowing us to see the fallacy in our perspective. I worked on separating those judgements over the course of 4 years, leading up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. It was there that I won the gold medal.
This process of questioning my initial judgments, and letting go of them, freed me. I felt so much room to excel and I didn’t feel angry anymore. I chose to lose those negative emotions and for me, that’s what Stoicism is especially about – learning to detach yourself from a situation to gain a healthier perspective. You have the power to rid yourself of these negative emotions. It’s your choice. One you do, life becomes better overall, more fun. I now have more energy, positive energy, that I use to follow my own path as an athlete, as a man, and as a person.
Do you have a favorite quote that you use?
Yes, I do, A couple actually. I often quote Marcus Aurelius, as I think he writes down his quotes beautifully. I love “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” I refer to that a lot to cope with setbacks. My perspective has become that it’s not an obstacle that blocks our paths, we can actually move further. It’s up to us to find a new direction.
I love also what Epictetus tells us about how if we’re in the classroom, we think we know how everything works. But when you drag us out into the field, out into the real world, we don’t know anything.
We indeed are able to write and to read these things, and to praise them when they are read, but we do not even come near to being convinced of them. Therefore what is said of the Lacedaemonians, “Lions at home, but in Ephesus foxes,” will fit in our case also, “Lions in the school, but out of it foxes.” – Discourses, 4.5
There’s a sort of humbleness in this philosophy. You never think of yourself as superior to anything or anyone. You reflect on life. To live is to wrestle, like Marcus Aurelius would say, right? The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing. We have to be ready for the unforeseen.
You touch on being careful not to use that you are “too busy” as an excuse in a blog on your site. Can you elaborate?
Yes, well, I sometimes use that as an excuse. When you say to friends “No, I’m too busy to do this; I’m too busy to do that”, you’re actually fooling because it’s not that you’re too busy. You have priorities in life, and you act according to those priorities. I have my kids, my family, my work, my book, my presentations. I do some television work too. So, of course, I’m busy, but I do the things I want to do. I have a sort of hierarchy in the things I find important in life, and I start with that hierarchy. I always put the things I find most important on top. So that means I cannot do other things, but I cannot use the excuse of being “too busy”.
If I’m honest with myself, I have to say, yeah, this is not important enough to me for me to spend my time on right now. Of course, that’s not always the way in real life. Sometimes you can say you are too busy and that’s okay but only if you’re not kidding yourself. So, if you say to somebody else that you’re too busy, and you really think you are too busy, you are self-deceived.
If you can say you’re too busy and know consciously that it’s because what’s being asked of you seems less important to you than other things, that’s okay. I don’t find anything wrong with that. But if you use the excuse often, and you actually think you are too busy, then you have it wrong. The thing you are struggling with saying yes to is probably something that is not important enough to you.
A friend of mine once replied, “Mark, you’re not too busy.” When I used to say I was too busy he would say: “You have a lot of things going on in your life that you find more important. But ‘too busy’ is not the proper excuse. You would just rather do something else.” I thought, yeah, that is true. So from that moment on, I’m really keen on avoiding using that term too often.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about what you do?
If you’d like to, you can read my book, DRIVE: Training Your Stoic Mindset. It’s slated to release in English next year. I have given quite a few talks as well, using my Olympic story and its Stoic foundation. Many people ask me about Stoic philosophy right after my talks. They hit me up on Instagram as well or send emails. I think that’s beautiful. That’s really become my mission in these last few years is getting in touch with people in order to get them in touch with Stoicism. I believe the philosophy can help them deal with life’s challenges, with parents, with work, with negative emotions and so on. It has really become my mission to help people who are struggling in their everyday lives, to light a fire under them and inspire them to read more about Stoicism and apply it.
DRIVE: Training Your Stoic Mindset, reads like a training manual because I’m used to training manuals. I believe we should not just train our bodies to become fit, but train our minds to be flexible and resilient.
You can also check out my website. It’s in English too. There you’ll find some info and also look at my YouTube channel for some short presentations. You can also follow me on Instagram, although most of my captions are in Dutch. I hope to transition more to English because I would love to be part of the international Stoic community.
Suppose you will be able to give a workshop at Plato’s Academy in Athens about resilience. How would you feel about that?
Well, that would be great. I think I have my own take on Stoic philosophy, performance and life, and I would love to share that take. So hopefully people are inspired or I can light up the spark that lights the fire within someone’s mind to think about things in a different way, to open up, to free themselves of negative emotions.
I think that’s one of the main reasons why we are all philosophers in some way. We try to work our way through life by thinking and asking ourselves questions, such as “Are we living a good life? Is this worthwhile? Does it resonate for me and for other people? And who am I in a community? What do I bring to the community? What what are the most important things in life? And do I live my life by these standards?” So many questions to ask yourself, and that’s, I think, a beautiful part of philosophy. It’s the life questions you ask yourself. It’s the the inspiration you get from the big philosophers coming after Socrates, of course, and the philosophers before that too, like Heraclitus. They inspired me a lot.
So I would love to come to the Plato’s Academy Centre. I would love to come to Athens again. I was there two weeks ago with all of you and it really inspired me. It’s really cool to feel the connection with the original place where philosophy flourished – and also democracy, trade, life flourished there. I think we are drawn to that place, and to that philosophy, again, especially now with the world seeming to be in chaos because of war, inflation, economy, environmental crises. It’s an interesting time and an interesting place. So I think, maybe more than ever, we can benefit from classical philosophy.
If I can play a part in that whole, I would love to do so. That would be a really great thing! I would cherish doing that worldwide, like a real cosmopolitan, meeting people all over the world who are inspired by philosophy or inspired by Stoicism. If I can help to share that inspiration, that passion, and do it from my own points of view, such as being an athlete, and being a father, yeah, I would just love to do that. Thank you for giving me the opportunity with his interview. I’m sure we’ll meet again. I would love to be part of future events in Athens.
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.
Lina Mendoni, the Minister for Culture and Sports, was unable to attend, unfortunately, as she was abroad, but she forwarded a statement of support for the event.
Organizing “Stoicism in Business” in Athens, the womb of classical Greek culture, hosted by the Aurelius Foundation and the YPO, combines and connects humanities with business in an exemplary and original way. In recent years, more and more successful business executives, organizational and administrative managers are expressing a strong interest in humanities and especially philosophy. […] I welcome you to Athens, the city whose history of thousands of years is everywhere visible and legible. I would like to warmly congratulate the initiators and organizers of this inspiring conference and wish you success in your endeavours.
Lina Mendoni, Greek Minister for Culture and Sports
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).
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.
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.
Regarding the event at Akadimia Platonos, Minister Mendoni, wrote in her speech:
Over time, there have been different influences on philosophical currents. However, the space of the Academy echoes the principles of Plato’s “State”. The grove of the Academy was one of the three important groves of ancient Athens. The archaeological site of Plato’s Academy coincides with the ancient “Gardens of Academus”, a verdant idyllic place, in the western suburbs of ancient Athens, where in the 6th century BC. the Gymnasium of Akadimia had been founded.
In this area, where there were sanctuaries of the Muses, Athena, Zeus Morius – patron and guardian of the sacred olive trees of Athens – , Hephaestus, Hercules, etc., Plato founded in 387 BC. his philosophical school, named Akadimia, after Academus. It was a place dedicated to education and sports, the first university in history, which also gave the concept of having a campus to universities all over the world.
Lina Mendoni, Greek Minister for Culture and Sports
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 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.