Stoicism 101 for Divorced Dads

Stoicism is one of a number of Philosophy schools that emerged in Athens during the 3rd century BC. Its founder was Zeno of Citium, a merchant who while shipwrecked in Athens, sought out teachers and studied to pass the time. Like several other schools of philosophy, it relied on the application of Logic as the foundation for its main principles. Logic consists of the analysis and appraisal of arguments to determine whether a proposition should be accepted or rejected.


Stoicism can most easily be described as a system of ethics and personal development, in which the experience of happiness (Eudaimonia) is best achieved through calm acceptance of circumstances, rather than allowing yourself to be subject to the turbulent forces of emotional reaction. The reason for this is a somewhat fatalistic acceptance that the universe unfolds the way it does according to a natural order, and that the turbulent emotions we experience are based on both an ignorance of nature, as well as a failure to align ourselves with the way nature works.

Today, the meaning of the word stoic has been subverted to mean “unemotional” or indifferent to pain; but that isn’t strictly true. Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions. The intention was to develop clear judgement and an inner calm.


Basically stoicism is all about understanding that unexpected, bad things happen, and that you need to learn to be ok with that.


So two central concepts in stoicism are that one must study nature, in order to understand how it works; and one must practice self-control in order to bring yourself into alignment with nature- because you cannot control what happens in the external world, but you can control what happens in the internal (or personal world).


Stoics avoided the anxiety of trying to create an ideal world, but instead, accepted the world and the randomness of life as it is and focussed all their attention on creating an ideal version of themselves, because only in this way, could the world ultimately change for the better.

This process involved not just reading and study, but also contemplation (or meditation) on all aspects of your character, events that have occurred and things that may occur in the future. Stoics were famous for meditating upon the fragile nature of life, and on mortality, as a reminder to keep their behaviour in check.

Every morning, Marcus Aurelius, one of the great Roman Emperors, as part of his meditation routine, took a few minutes to practice a type of negative visualisation – in which he would imagine the worst possible things that could happen that day, and how he might best react to them and manage them. Then he would go about his day without giving it a second thought. If something bad happened, he had already conditioned his mind to react less emotionally and was more empowered to take better action. This kind of visualisation is sorely lacking in the modern kinds of personal development we see today, where people only focus on what they want, and then fall into despair when life turns out differently.

Part of the mental training of Stoics was an emphasis the cultivation of the four cardinal virtues:

  • Wisdom – The ability to make the best decisions in complex situations, by calmly analysing and appreciating all the evidence, without bias
  • Courage – Having the integrity to take action, and bear the challenges of life
  • Justice – Recognising the humanity in all people, and treating them fairly
  • Temperance – The exercise of moderation in all things

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