Why Stoicism

Stoicism was established in ancient Greece more than 2000 years ago. Stoicism’s founder Zeno of Citium. Zeno sketched a path to human flourishing (eudaimonia) that is open to all regardless of gender, ethnicity, education level, social status, or past mistakes.

At Wisdom Unlocked, we are committed to teaching Stoic principles to all those who are ready to embark on their own journey of self-discovery and self-fulfilment. Stoicism may be more than two thousand years old, but at Wisdom Unlocked we believe that Zeno’s lessons are as powerful as ever.

Stoicism has consistently appealed to all those who are searching for a deeper connection with the self and the world around them. In the 21st century, Stoic principles continue to offer insights to thousands of people, many of whom have gone on to craft a better life for themselves, their families, and their communities. At Wisdom Unlocked, we understand that an emotionally healthy person is one that can develop a healthier relationship with themselves. An emotionally healthy person is also one that can enrich the lives of others. In our programs, we highlight the benefits of a mind that is open to the possibilities of a more empowered future, where fate happens through you, rather than to you.

Photo credit: Greek temple at Agrigento by Tristan Ferne

Stoicism is a personal and practical philosophy that requires us to carefully examine our thoughts, actions, and attitudes, so we can learn to make more appropriate decisions. Stoic principles are focused on helping people to strive for a good character, when life is easy and when it is hard. Zeno and his Stoics understood that human flourishing is rooted in communal living, which includes engaging in civic duties and building strong local and global ties. At Wisdom Unlocked, we offer practical assistance, where appropriate, to those who require a little extra help to reconnect with family members and friends who will help them overcome their present challenges.

Stoicism is known to have helped prisoners of war and those interned in concentration camps to find meaning and persevere in the direst of circumstances. Both Vice Admiral James Stockdale, and Dr. Viktor Frankl leaned on Stoic teachings to embolden their mind and spirit when everything else seemed to crush them. Stoicism won’t remove all of life’s obstacles, but it does helps us to think differently about them. It won’t provide us with all the answers, but it gives us the ability to ask the questions that ultimately lead to solutions. At Wisdom Unlocked, we don’t claim to change the world, but we do our best to change the worlds of those of whom our programs and outreach initiatives touch.

Santara’s Story

I was driving home on a sunny day in southern California when I received a call from my sister-in-law in Germany. She phoned to tell me that my brother, Moses, had passed away after a two-year fight against ALS, a disease that attacks the nervous system. ALS caused him to lose control of all his muscles, eventually leaving him unable to walk, eat or breathe on his own.

I stopped the car and found myself struggling for words. I felt my entire body go limp. The years that I had spent with my brother flashed before my eyes. I remembered watching a Dracula movie with him and being so scared that we hung raw garlic all over the house, thinking that would save us. I remember our dad standing next to the garlic, scolding us while trying not to laugh. I thought about the conversations my brother and I had about life, love, and the relationship we enjoyed with our dad. Our father passed away in 1993, and my brother and I never quite came to grips with it. We never spoke about our loss; but at least we had each other. Now my brother was gone, and I was all alone. It felt as if the Earth had opened up, and I had fallen into the depths of despair.

A whole month went by during which I just existed until, by chance, I stumbled upon Stoic philosophy. I had no idea how much Stoicism would change my life. Through reading the Stoics, I realized that I was holding on to the grief of losing both my father and brother. Eventually, I came to understand that if I wanted to be happy then I had to learn to let grief go. The Stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger wrote something to this effect in his letter to Polybius:

“Let your tears flow, but also let them cease, let deepest sighs be drawn from your chest, but let them find an end”. (18:6)

I found solace in Seneca’s words as I knew that my grief needed to be faced and processed properly, not suppressed. His teachings also reminded me to reflect on the positives of their deaths. Slowly, I began to recognize that in some ways they would always be with me, so long as I continued to cherish their life lessons. This included the trivial ones like my dad telling me to pay attention to people’s shoes as a means of assessing their priorities.

When I chose to live by Seneca’s words and celebrate my father’s and brother’s passing, my perception changed. Death was still final, but it was no longer tragic or all consuming. It didn’t have to rob me of my future joys and laughter. Neither of them would have wanted that for me.  Soon my grief turned into gratitude. I walk in gratitude every day, as life can be fleeting. I firmly believe that we must make the most of what we have. One way in which I chose to do this is by joining the local Stoic group.

During one such gathering, the Stoic authors Kai Whiting and Leonidas Konstantakos joined our group to discuss their book Being Better: Stoicism for a World Worth Living in. It quickly became apparent that Kai and I could work together to help those in the incarcerated space progress towards a flourishing life, at least from the Stoic perspective. Wisdom Unlocked was born…

Kai’s Story

I found Stoicism in a hospital waiting room. My grandmother, the rock of our family, was dying. There was nothing I could do. No words that I could say that would make things better. It wasn’t about fair or unfair, love or the lack of it. It wasn’t about wishing things were different because that wasn’t going to change reality.

To make the waiting a little more bearable I decided to read a book by an author that was influenced by Stoicism. I read that there was a difference between perception and observation. An observation is what is happening. The perception is what we think about it. The fact was, in all likelihood, my grandmother would die. Uncomfortable thoughts swirled in my mind, so vividly that it moves me to write this piece now. Back then, I hoped she would pull through. I remember thinking that I wasn’t sure what I would do if she didn’t. I wasn’t sure where her death would lead me. I wasn’t sure what it would mean for my family.

When my family and I heard the news that she had died, the Stoic book was on my lap. I remember looking around the waiting room as the oxygen got sucked out of it. All hope had gone. I remember watching the faces I had known all my life contort from shock into pain within seconds. I remember finding it odd that I wasn’t crying. Instead, I was working the Stoic principles through in my mind. I remember the solace Stoicism bought me when the first overwhelming emotion was not fear nor grief but gratitude. I was sincerely grateful for the life my grandmother had lived and the things she had taught me.

One of her favourite sayings was “Aim high so if you fall, you fall in the middle”. She had been my rock and now it was Stoicism’s turn to hand my hand and lead me on. Stoicism took me to unexpected places. It asked me to go beyond thinking about what Stoicism could do for me. It led me to dedicate my life to helping myself and others work out how Stoicism can make the world a better place. It led me and Leonidas Konstantakos (in an academic paper and later our book) to add a circle to Hierocles’ circles of concern so that we can all better envision how caring for our planet, helps us to better care for the self and our communities.

Source: Whiting and Konstantakos (2021)

I am grateful for Stoicism. In some respects, it helped me conquer death. It helped when I should had been at my lowest low. I didn’t fall because Stoicism taught me that there was nothing shameful or bad about death, only in how we chose to face it. I remember the nurses being very sad when they came back on their shifts and realised my grandmother had died. They told me she had been kind and made them feel special. The ones that had been by her side at the time, said she smiled to the end. I hope that whatever death I might face, I go out smiling.