Reading Stoicism

In How I Read Stoicism, Ed Batista offers some useful guidelines for anyone reading Stoic philosophy to keep in mind.

Stoicism isn’t “stoicism”

Often when we see stoicism used in a contemporary context it’s often a negative attribute ascribed to someone who is void of emotion and therefore seen as passive or unengaged with the world around them. That’s an oversimplification of one of the core virtues of Stoic philosophy; to control our emotions. To challenge this characterisation, Batista encourages us to find out more about the lives of the Stoics. The Daily Stoic has a good introduction in their article Who Were the Stoic Philosophers.

Emotion regulation isn’t suppression

Returning to the theme of keeping our emotions under control, it’s important to recognise that this doesn’t mean burying them.

“Efforts to completely suppress and extinguish an emotional response are typically unsuccessful and can even be counterproductive, exacerbating the undesired feeling and heightening our focus on its causes. Further, a lack of emotional awareness can erode the quality of our thinking.”

Stoicism helps us to develop a valuable skill that Batista calls emotional effectiveness:

“we must be able to sense, comprehend, articulate and express our feelings in ways that help us accomplish our goals. This certainly entails the ability to regulate our emotions, but not to such an extent that we’re seeking to suppress them”

The Stoics were human beings just like us

It can be easy to read classical texts and assign them and their authors a value based on their endurance. And it’s foolish to assume that the Stoic’s were some kind of higher order of man (although I think that’s something I’ve been guilty of) and that these texts hold all the answers:

“Stoicism as a whole challenges us to rise above our frustrations and fears in order to become better versions of ourselves. The awesome difficulty of this task can be demoralizing if we assume that the Stoics themselves accomplished it with ease and are preaching at us from on high (or, worse, failed in the attempt and are lying to us.) Instead, I choose to read the work of the Stoics as testimonials from fellow sufferers who are sharing their struggles, not recounting their triumphs.”

I think it’s important to remember that there’s no end to the journey of self-improvement. That there will be both highs and lows along the way. It’s not in our nature to ever reach a point where we feel completely satisfied and in control, to feel that we couldn’t have done any better. What we can learn from the Stoic’s is how to persevere and keep challenging ourselves to be better.

An island for yourself

“You don’t need a course in silence or relaxation to be able simply to pause. Silence can be anywhere, any time – it’s just in front of your nose. I create it for myself as I walk up the stairs, prepare food or merely focus on my breathing. Sure, we are all part of the same world, but the potential wealth of being an island for yourself is something you carry around with you all the time.”

Erling Kagge

From The power of silence in the smartphone age

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”
Anne Lamott

Creativity and time

“You can’t decide to produce an insight in 30 minutes, or to have an idea by 3:15. But you can decide to forget about the clock and focus on the challenge at hand, in which case you may well have an idea by 3:15—or even five ideas. Imagination takes as long as it takes, and rushing it usually slows it down. This is the central conflict between the world of business and the world of creativity. They need each other, but can’t seem to understand each other. They’re working in two different kinds of time.”

Marty Neumeier

From Dreaming: A Metaskill for the Future

“True listening requires setting aside oneself”

M Scott Peck

Generous listening

I’m currently reading Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett. Chapter two is about the importance of words. The stand out passages here for me focus on the art of listening, a skill that requires some work in a world where too often we listen only while waiting for our turn to speak.

Tippet introduces us to Rachel Naomi Remen’s concept of generous listening:

“Generous listening is powered by curiosity, a virtue we can invite and nurture in ourselves to render it instinctive. It involves a kind of vulnerability – a willingness to be surprised, to let go of assumptions and take in ambiguity. The listener wants to understand the humanity behind the words of the other, and patiently summons ones own best self and ones own best words and questions.”

To my eye, that’s a description of coaching.

If generous listening is a call for us to find our best questions, we need to know how different questions invite different responses:

“a question is a powerful thing, a mighty use of words. Questions elicit answers in their likeness. Answers mirror the questions they rise, or fall, to meet. So while a simple question can be precisely what’s needed to drive to the heart of the matter, it’s hard to meet a simplistic question with anything but a simplistic answer. It’s hard to transcend a combative question. But it’s hard to resist a generous question. We all have it in us to formulate questions that invite honesty, dignity, and revelation.”

That final sentence is a pretty strong call to action for me as a coach. It’s a reminder to check myself when preparing to ask a question. To query why I’m asking it or what I am hoping to learn. And ultimately how it benefits the person I am coaching.

“Humans are capable of a unique trick: creating realities by first imagining them, by experiencing them in their minds.”
Brian Eno

Keep coming back

To get good at anything we need to practise, to repeat an action until it becomes second nature. To make progress we need to show up, to keep coming back, just like the sun.

“The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions.”
Claude Levi-Strauss

Via Ian O’Byrne

Confidence in an idea

Our confidence in an idea decreases as time goes on. That’s something I heard twice in conversation over a 48 hour period at the Thinking Digital Conference in May. And it’s something I know from my own experience.

Sometimes to move these ideas forward and turn them into something we have to access a very special part of our brain…

A post shared by Mr Bingo (@mr_bingstagram) on

I’m also keen to explore how working openly, and sharing ideas before they’re fully formed things can counter this loss of confidence. This is something I intend to do as I develop content for my coaching business, so watch this space.

© 2018 Concise Comms

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑