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Stoicism lesson materials

Here is a brief document which teachers and classes might find useful as class material for a lesson Stoic philosophy and how we can use it today. It's by Jules Evans, author of Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations, and one of the organizers of Stoic Week.
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  Stoicism: the crib sheet Who were the Stoics? -Stoicism first arose in 300 BC in Athens. The founder was Zeno of Citium. -Stoics were very influenced by Socrates, who had died a century earlier. Like Socrates, they believed that virtue is sufficient for happiness - in other words, you can always find happiness and contentment within, no matter how difficult the external situation. -Stoicism was and is an incredibly practical philosophy, which was meant to be not just studied, but practiced and lived. -It was designed as a sort of therapy for the emotions, which would help people cope with suffering and adversity. -It was the main inspiration for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which is the most evidence-based form of therapy, and which you can get for free in the NHS if you’re suffering from depression, anxiety or other emotional problems. Through CBT, Stoic ideas have helped millions of people to overcome emotional problems. -Stoics used to teach in the agora or marketplace of Athens, to whoever wanted to listen. The name ‘Stoicism’ comes the painted colonnade or stoa poikile   underneath which they taught. -When the Roman Empire conquered the Greek city-states, Roman culture became very influenced by Greek culture. Stoicism, in particular, was very popular with the Roman elite, and most of the surviving books of ancient Stoicism are by Roman Stoics. -The three most famous Roman Stoics were: Epictetus  - he was a slave in the time of Nero, who was then granted his freedom and became a famous philosopher. He was often in trouble with the Roman authorities because he was so independent-minded, and was exiled twice from Rome. Today, you can read his Discourses, which are brief talks he gave to his students. Seneca the Elder  - he was tutor to the emperor Nero and became the top politician in Rome, before falling out with Nero (who was mad) and being forced to commit suicide. He wrote several Stoic essays, including On Anger   and On the Shortness of Life  , as well as a series of Stoic letters to a young friend who was interested in philosophy. Marcus Aurelius - he was emperor of the Rome, the most powerful man in the world. This was a difficult Marcus Aurelius   job, and Marcus spent the last ten years of his life fighting the rebellious barbarians at the border of his empire (you can see him doing this in the film, Gladiator). During that time, he kept a philosophical journal, which survives today as the Meditations  , one of the most beautiful books of philosophy. Stoicism Today Stoicism has always attracted fans and followers, because it’s such a useful and practical life-philosophy. Today, more and more people are rediscovering it and using it in their life. Famous modern fans of Stoicism include the magician Derren Brown, former president Bill Clinton, and Doctor Who’s assistant Clara Oswald, who is fond of quoting Marcus Aurelius! So how can we practice Stoicism today? Here are eight great ideas from Stoicism that you can try out. 1)‘It’s not events that cause us suffering, but our opinion about events’ (Epictetus)  People often think ‘Stoic’ means ‘suppressing your emotions behind a stiff upper lip’. This is not what ancient Stoicism meant. The Stoics thought we could transform emotions by understanding how they’re connected to our beliefs and attitudes. Often what causes us suffering is not a particular adverse event, but our opinion about it. Notice how sometimes we have a very strong emotional reaction to an event, and then we change our perspective on it, and this changes how we feel about it. Our emotions are connected to how we interpret events, and we can change our interpretation. This gives us some control over how we feel. 2) Our automatic interpretations of events are not always true. We can learn to be more detached from them, and to question them. Every day, we’re making interpretations of events, but we’re not always conscious of these interpretations. They often happen rapidly and automatically, through something called ‘self-talk’, which is like a running commentary going through our minds. We don’t usually notice our self-talk, or question it. We assume that our automatic judgements about the world are always 100% accurate and true.  But it’s not.  It’s more like a lazy, prejudiced and slightly hysterical newscaster, who always jumps to conclusions and never checks its facts - sort of like an inner Daily Mail. Imagine if you had an inner Daily Mail which you always believed - you’d end up very disturbed, frightened and angry! CBT has identified some of the ways we can misinterpret situations, which can cause us unnecessary emotional suffering. For example, we might ‘catastrophize’, which means jumping to the worst possible conclusion about a situation. We might ‘mind-read’, which means thinking we know exactly what another person thinks about us, based on not very much evidence. We might ‘fortune-tell’, which means thinking that because a situation is difficult now, it will always  be that difficult. We might ‘personalize’ - taking things very personally, like if someone is a bit grumpy we might take it as a direct personal insult. We can learn to examine our unconscious assumptions and interpretations, by becoming more mindful, and by asking ourselves questions. This is what Socrates tried to teach people, and it’s what the Stoics try to teach as well. Epictetus told his students: ‘do not allow yourself to be carried away by the intensity [of your impression]: but say, 'Impression, wait for me a little. Let me see what you are, and what you represent. Let me test you.'We can ask, for example: -is this definitely the correct interpretation? might I be misinterpreting it? -where’s the evidence for it?-is this way of looking at the situation helpful? -if my interpretation is accurate, what practical steps can I take to deal with it?  3) We can’t control everything that happens to us, but we can control how we interpret it Epictetus was a slave in the Roman Empire, which meant he had very little control over his external life. Yet he discovered a way to stay resilient even in chaotic situations. He divided all of human life into two zones - Zone 2 are the things in life over which we don’t have complete control. Zone 1 are the things in life over which we do have complete control. What things in life are beyond our complete control? The government? The economy? Other people? Our bodies? Our reputation? Epictetus thought all external things are beyond our complete control. We have some control over them, but they’re all subject to changing circumstances. The only thing that is in our complete control is our own beliefs, our attitudes. We cause ourselves needless suffering when we get disturbed about things that are beyond our control, and when we try to force the world to be exactly like we want it to be. We also cause ourselves suffering when we fail to take responsibility for our own beliefs. The way to stay resilient, Epictetus believed, was to focus on what’s in our control, while accepting the things that are beyond our control. Zone 2 - things in life over which we don’t have complete controlZone 1 - things in life over which we do have control


Jul 23, 2017


Jul 23, 2017
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