Recently, I’ve been delving into a philosophy that’s been around for centuries but feels incredibly relevant to our modern times: Stoicism. In particular, I’ve been engrossed in the works of Marcus Aurelius, his ‘Meditations,’ (there are free versions out there on the web, but this Gregory Hayes version is my favorite), and Epictetus with his ‘Discourses (again, there are free versions available on the web that are easy to find, but this is a great version that I use personally).’ It’s been a transformative experience, which I am compelled to share, as it’s begun to significantly shape my perspective on parenting and teaching.
For those unfamiliar, Stoicism is a philosophy founded in Athens in the 3rd century BC but became especially popular in the first couple centuries of the Roman Empire. It teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means to overcome destructive emotions. The Stoic does not seek to extinguish feelings but instead transform them with a resolute ‘askēsis‘ that enables a person to develop clear judgment and inner calm.
Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor wrote ‘Meditations’ as a source of personal guidance and self-improvement. It’s a collection of thoughts, musings, and reminders to himself about the virtues he strived to cultivate—patience, humility, and understanding.
One of my favorite quotes from Aurelius is: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” This concept, often summarized as “the obstacle is the way,” has profoundly reframed challenges in my life. As a parent and a teacher, numerous unforeseen obstacles arise. Rather than viewing these as setbacks, I now see them as opportunities for growth and learning—for myself and the young minds I’m shaping.
Epictetus, a formerly enslaved person turned philosopher, taught that our reactions are the only things within our control. He said, “We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.” This insight has shifted my approach to parenting. When my child gets upset, I can’t always control the situation causing the distress, but I can control my reaction. I can choose patience, understanding, and compassion.
In the classroom, the Discourses of Epictetus have also inspired me to shift my focus from the outcomes of my students to their effort and growth. This approach aligns perfectly with the Stoic emphasis on controlling what’s within our power. I can’t control the grades my students receive, but I can encourage their resilience, their determination, and their love of learning.
Stoicism, focusing on inner strength, self-control, and accepting what we cannot change, provides a robust framework for navigating life’s challenges. As I continue to study and incorporate these principles into my life, I’m better equipped to respond to the demands of parenting and teaching.
My journey into Stoicism is ongoing, and I’m excited to share more insights as they come. If you’re interested in exploring this philosophy, I recommend starting with ‘Meditations’ by Marcus Aurelius and ‘The Discourses by Epictetus (and pick up Pierre Hadot’s The Inner Citadel if you want a deep-dive). Their wisdom is timeless and, as I’ve found, profoundly applicable to our modern lives.