16 Nov 2021

How ancient philosophies apply to modern times

From Afternoons, 3:10 pm on 16 November 2021

You don't control the world around you, you control how you respond.

This is how Stoic Ryan Holiday boils down the ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and applies it to our very modern lives.

He tells us how he uses the wisdom of stoicism from the 3rd century BC to develop resilience and humility to navigate uncertainty in the 21st Century. 

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Photo: wikicommons

Holiday has a podcast and newsletter, The Daily Stoic, and now a new book where explores the four virtues of stoicism called Courage is Calling: Fortune Favors the Brave.

Courage is within us all, he told Jesse Mulligan.

“Courage isn't this thing that the outside world is hoping for from me. I think, what's interesting about courage is that you already possess inside you all the things that you need. In fact, you probably already know what it is that you should and could do.

“External events can transpire in a way that sort of sets you up to do something. But the truth is, you can do that right now.”

But it must be tempered by judgement, it is not about recklessness, Holiday says.

“If we're talking about courage as a virtue or the virtue of courage, it's impossible to separate from the other virtues.

“So, courage is balanced by temperance, by justice, by wisdom. So, if you're courageously willing to risk your job, your livelihood, or your reputation, because of some random BS that you read on the internet.

“Because you don't know how to separate fact from fiction, truth from propaganda, you're kind of missing the point.”

For the Stoics courage was inseparable from doing the right thing, he says.

“A hero doesn't say, you'll never make me do this thing that benefits myself and other people, right?

“That's the opposite of what heroism is, you'll never get me to take this life-saving vaccine to prevent the spread of a virus that's claimed the lives of millions of people all over the world.”

Courage is the doctors working in Covid wards or the grocery store workers, he says.

“Who have had to put up with these anti-vaxxers and Covid deniers, right?

“Courage is the people who did something for the benefit of other people.”

Fear is the barrier to us being courageous, he says.

“We are held back by fear; What's going to happen to me? What’s gonna happen to my job prospects? What will other people think? What if it goes wrong? What are they gonna say? Who am I? I don't have what it takes, fear is what holds us back.”

Courage is the triumph over fear, he says.

“That's what it is 2500 years ago, Aristotle says that courage exists on a spectrum, that the opposite of fear is not necessarily cowardice, but it's also fearlessness.

“So, fear is a thing that exists and courage is the ability to navigate what fears to push past. And, how much is also too much, right?”

Courage is habit-forming, Holiday says.

“I think generally developing the habit of I go towards the pain as opposed to away from it, that I'm not deterred by things, that I push forward, that I don't take counsels of my fears, is a good habit that helps us when those big moments do arrive.”

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Photo: Penguin Random House

Bravery in an online world is difficult but no less important than in the real world, he says.  

“We do, I think, live in a time where we're awash with keyboard activism and internet activism that doesn't sort of amount to much in the real world.

"I think about this with my own audience. I mean, there's definitely things that I say, whether it's about Covid or whether it's about political events in the United States that, were I to just shut up about, would probably be better for business. Even a thing that most people are on the right side of, I don't know, in the US, let's say 70 percent of people are pro vaccine and 30 percent  not - who wants to piss off 30 percent of their audience, right?”

But we are obligated to hold the line on what is right, he told Jesse Mulligan.

“The easiest thing to do in the world is to give up, especially on other people, especially when other people are being horrible.

“Look at what's happening where I am, you look at the way Americans are treating each other, to watch armed mobs charge and take over the Capitol.

“I mean it is easy to despair. But I think a Stoic has to ask, what kind of world am I guaranteeing when I hand it over to those people?”

Giving up is to abdicate, he says.

“Look at the stoic history, and they were often fighting rearguard actions or rear-guard defences against, what seemed like overwhelming odds.

“And they kept going and didn't give up hope. They didn't give up on what they believed in and they did what they could when they could, and then they sort of left the rest to the gods or to fate.”