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The Subtle Art of Sharing Ancient Wisdom Without Saying The “S” Word

By Vanessa Morgenstern

Have you ever wanted to share your own Stoic-inspired wisdom and uplift the people around you, but have not been successful due to misunderstandings that surround Stoicism? Don't worry, whether you're talking to a friend in need, a group of people in general or simply expressing your own insights gained from practicing Stoic philosophy, this article was written for you. This post will break down trepidation created from misconceptions of Stoicism, offer a plan of action for a delicate approach, and provide 6 subtle ways you can share ancient wisdom without saying the “S” word.

Misconceptions of Stoicism

With Stoicism’s resurgence over the last few decades, and notable authors like Ryan Holiday and Donald Robertson who are doing their best to restore and modernize this deep and compelling philosophy– it remains misunderstood today.

Although there are many assumptions made by both men and women as to what a Stoic truly is, we will focus on 4 of the most common misjudgments out there.

Stoics are Emotionless

This is the most widespread misunderstanding of them all. Especially in the wake of the pandemic, the news has highlighted how we are struggling today socially, politically, and environmentally. People are struggling.

Coded in humanity’s DNA is our nature to nurture. To want to help. To care. And so, for those who are unfamiliar with Stoic principles, this would not be the time that they would want to lean into any practices that would train them in the opposite direction of having compassion towards society.

Hesitation Factor: To be Stoic is to lack humanity, suppressing all emotions.

Stoic Beliefs

Stoicism first originated in 300 B.C.E, long before the emergence of Christianity. For people who are unfamiliar to the origins of Stoicism, reading passages from the ancient Stoics and their attitudes towards divinity, leave people contemplating:

  • Is Stoicism more religious or is it more spiritual?

  • Were the Stoics atheist or agnostic?

Hesitation Factor: For the person who holds a strong faith base, reading Stoicism might make them feel as if they are going against their faith. And for the person who is not faith based they are not interested in identifying with something that blends somewhere between religion and spiritual practice.

A Philosophy for Men Created by Men

Considering the misconception that Stoics are void of emotion, and the fact that ancient Stoic texts are often interpreted in a way that can be seen as favoring men, one perspective often held by women is that Stoicism is just another male-oriented tool for asserting power in all areas of life.

Hesitation Factor: Stoicism is patriarchal and promotes misogyny.

Stoicism is Culty

We live in a world today where “self-help” is on the rise. It is a movement. On just about every platform you can stream shows on today– there is a documentary on a retreat, a meditation class, or a guru who has gone rogue and manipulated all their followers into a cult.

Hesitation Factor: When like-minded people get together practicing self-help concepts, they are on their way to being brainwashed.

I’ll never be ashamed to quote a bad writer with a good saying. –Seneca

Based off the 4 most common myths presented above, it is understandable how people may shut down if something contrasts with their values, especially when they may be in fear that it may not resonate with their beliefs. So how do we navigate sharing with others the distillation of Stoic philosophy?

The simple answer is strategy.

Plan of Action

It has been said that one of the domains that separates human from animal is our ability to communicate. Through logic and reasoning, humans exercise effective communication to express feelings, exchange knowledge and create connections.

But before you start spatting off rebuttals when up against someone who shows interest in how you build character, only to shut down when you share your personal philosophy, you need to craft an approach and take a few things into consideration first.

Know What You're Talking About

Communication is key. Before sharing any message, it is essential that you understand the information you want to communicate. When presented with new information people are going to ask questions. The assumptions will come out. And if you truly want someone to absorb the essence of any topic whether it be politics, religion, etc., it is crucial that you yourself are educated on the topic.

Some people are very open to things that they are unfamiliar with and ask many questions out of true curiosity. And then there are other people who get hung up on a certain word or phrase that causes them to shut down on their listening skills. They may just ask questions to start conflict or to dupe you.

In this case you will have to have a clear understanding on the misinterpretations of Stoicism so that you can separate fact from fiction when addressing the common myths.

Stoicism is the Opposite of Emotionless

A Stoic’s position on emotions is not to suppress or deny, nor is their main focus on emotional regulation. Contrary to popular belief, Stoic philosophy offers a deeper exploration into the realm of human emotions.

The ancient Stoics took into consideration how our emotions are the result of our own judgments and interpretations of events, as well as the fundamental role our values and beliefs play in shaping our emotional experiences. A Stoic would not simply seek pleasure or avoid pain, but rather examine whether their desires and aversions align with their emotional well-being and values.