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.
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.
Overall, Stoics view emotions as a natural part of the human experience, but they advocate for a rational response, in accordance with living a virtuous life.
Stoicism is Not a Religion
This topic is a little more sensitive and complex. I have found William B. Irvine’s explanation from his book The Stoic Challenge: A Philosophers Guide To Becoming Tougher, Calmer, And More Resilient to be the easiest breakdown on the matter:
It is important to realize that Stoicism is not a religion: its primary concern is not with our afterlife but with our time spent on Earth. That said, I should add that Stoicism is compatible with many religions, including Christianity and Islam. - William B. Irvine
Stoicism is compatible with many beliefs and a lot of those beliefs share the same values of Stoic ethics. With that said, it is also appropriate for someone who may identify as agnostic or atheist to practice Stoic philosophy as well.
Stoicism is Not a Good Ol' Boys Club
Nor is it for macho-men only, or is misogyny encouraged. As a matter of fact, one of the most fundamental beliefs in Stoicism is that both women and men are capable of virtue.
Porcia Cato, the daughter of Roman Philosopher Cato the Younger, and one of the most popular female Stoics in record (the little record that we do have of her) still fascinates historians today. Although we cannot be 100% sure she herself identified as a Stoic, more and more women today do.
Stoicism is Not a Cult
Just as anyone should be careful when learning new practices, researching for retreats, looking for likeminded people to engage with—they should do so with caution.
Practicing Stoicism is not signing a vow, it is not handing over anything as collateral, nor are you bound to only speaking to other Stoics only, shutting out the world. It is a practice designed to improve your life and it’s all about choice.
Whether you are the one to make the approach or you are being approached by someone asking about something you posted or something they overheard you say in result of practicing Stoicism - it is essential that you have an awareness of the people you are talking to.
Know Your Audience
Let’s say that you’ve been posting a lot of Stoic quotes on your social media that resonate with something you’re going through right now and a good friend of yours who
has a very strong faith-based background
has been resistant to certain topics in the past
asks you what’s up with all the things you are posting. To explain how Stoic philosophy has helped you in the past, as well as explaining the quotes you share serve as affirmations for yourself and for others who could use some inspiration, you will have to be creative in how you get your message across.
By knowing the background, culture, and subtle traits of others, you can ensure that your message is being shared in a way that not only avoids conflict, but you’re sharing the extract of the message without offending or trivializing the beliefs and values that others hold.
Know Your Limitations/Boundaries
Remember your goal. Effective communication. It is not about who’s louder or being right. People will not hear you if they do not want to hear you. Effective communication results in both parties feeling respected and heard.
At any point you can feel that the conversation is not going to be productive, or you feel that the other person is feeling offended or confrontational, then politely end the conversation or change the subject.
At the End of the Day...
Even if someone brings up the conversation out of curiosity, they may decide that it's not worth their time to invest in learning more about the topic. However, this doesn't mean that these topics should be completely disregarded.
Instead, we should strive to make complex topics more accessible and understandable, simultaneously creating a space that allows people to come to their own conclusion, deciding on their own terms if they want to learn more or not.
6 Subtle Ways to Share Ancient Wisdom Without Saying the "S" Word
If you don't feel comfortable being vocal about Stoicism, there are plenty of subtle methods that can be used to incorporate Stoic principles that can start a conversation. Here are 6 of them to get you started!
1. Embody Your Philosophy
Don’t explain your philosophy, embody it. –Epictetus
Embodying your philosophy is the simplest and most effective action you could ever take.
As you take a conscious effort working on your own character others will take notice. The great Stoics believed that by living according to their principles, they could be a positive influence on those around them. They understood that words alone were not enough—it was only through their actions that they could truly show what was important to them. Following this same principle, we can all strive to live our lives in a way that reflects our deepest values and beliefs.
2. Harness the Power of Storytelling
Storytelling has been used throughout history to communicate values, beliefs, and lessons. People told stories through drawings later shifting to verbal traditions passing stories through generations by word of mouth. Christianity used the Bible to share stories of faith and hope, while other religions and spiritual leaders have also used stories to convey their teachings.
The power of story is not limited to religious or spiritual teachings. Our own life experiences can be just as powerful in sharing our journey of trial and triumph with others. By sharing your own life experiences, you can provide others with examples of:
how you overcame a difficult situation
how you reframed a circumstance
how you find joy in your life
3. Share Quotes, Antidotes, Newsletters
We all need a little inspiration in our lives, and what better way to start the day than with an inspirational text message? Whether it's a powerful quote, a picture of a passage, or even just forwarding a newsletter that you think they may resonate with, sending motivational messages can be an easy way to spread joy and positivity. Maybe even boosting a little curiosity.
4. Share a Book or Start a Book Club
Starting a book club is a great way to bring people together and learn new things. It's a great way to motivate each other and discuss different perspectives on life. Through books, we can find new ways of looking at the world and find inspiration for our own lives.
It’s important to keep in mind whether you start a book club or even recommend a book to a friend, it does not have to be specifically about Stoicism. There are many great books out there in all the genres with great messages that are rooted in wisdom. This goes for sharing quotes and passages too.
5. Share Content Online
We live in an era where reality tv is a prominent part of our culture. People are curious more than you know and want to peek into the lives of others.
Whether it be about something you do or are involved in, your experiences, or even just a funny anecdote - posting on your social media or creating content for your blog or podcast are great platforms to connect with people sharing all the parts of your personal life.
6. Sit in Silence
We all have wisdom we would like to share with others, but the beauty of this philosophy reminds us ultimately that what is in our control is to work on ourselves.
In times of difficulty, it is important to remember that our presence alone can be enough to provide comfort and support to those in need. Showing empathy and understanding towards others, as well as extending love and care, are the fruits of Stoicism. People don’t always want a fix. It is not necessary to have all the answers or solutions; simply listening and being present can make an impact.
Vanessa Morgenstern is a stay-at-home parent, a student of Stoicism, a social scientist by nature, an artist, an advocate of community, a supporter of self-love, self-expression, and constructive self-criticism. She is the creator of Stoic Dahlia, a platform for modern-day women to share their unfiltered viewpoints and encourage each other in the midst of evolutionary change. Follow her on Instagram @stoicdahlia.