Nancy Sherman, The Georgetown and United States Naval Academy Philosopher, talks about what it embodies and its place in the Military.
In a nutshell, Stoicism is an idea from the Ancient Greeks and Romans that has gained a lot of popularity in recent years (thanks in part to people like our friend, Ryan Holiday, who built a wonderfully large book and public speaking empire out of it).
It’s a philosophy, not a religion, based on human observation over belief in a supernatural deity. This makes it easier for some people to get behind it, which probably explains its recent surge in popularity.
Stoicism is based around the idea of “Virtue,” and all that it implies. What is virtue? How does it behave? How do you live a virtuous life? How can you tell? And if we’re all going to be dead after the sun explodes, why does it matter?
All good questions.
The chief tenet of Stoicism is self-control under pressure. No matter how bad things get out there (wars, plagues, betrayal, loss, bank collapses), you as a Stoic don’t take it personally. Whatever the world throws at you (which it will, often), you calmly deal with it.
In other words, a good Stoic lives with their thoughts, actions, and deeds in harmony – what the Chinese Taoists call “Te.” The good stuff travels, it seems.
Our most important take from Nancy’s interview is that virtue is not always apparent to others, so it may not get you the plaudits you were hoping for. But that’s no reason not to have it.
In other words, one should cultivate virtue regardless of how well it’s seen (or rewarded) by others. It should exist for its own sake, invisible if necessary, not flashed around like a Gucci bag.
This applies to business as well. People may not see the virtues of your product or service right away (hint- they probably won’t) but that’s no reason not to pursue it.
P.S. Stoicism got its name from the place where its founder, Zeno of Citium (Cyprus), customarily lectured—the Stoa Poikile (Painted Colonnade).
Sheila Michaels (1939-2017) was a celebrated feminist and activist who knew that language itself could be a form of activism and a vehicle for challenging cultural norms. She took on the challenge of popularizing the honorific “Ms,” arguing it had the potential to empower women by removing their marital status from their professional identities. She caught the attention of Gloria Steinem in the process who used it for her groundbreaking feminist magazine.