Blog Site

Monday, July 16, 2007

Leadership and Stoicism

Two of Stoicism's most prominent philosophers were Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. As professor Michael Sugrue of Princeton University observes in his wonderful lecture on Marcus Aurelius: one of the wonderful ironies about the history of philosophy was that the former was a slave and the latter an emperor. That speaks greatly to the flexibility and applicability of Stoicism, but it also has recently brought to my mind another thought.

In this year I have found myself in a leadership role in my community organization, my profession, and soon, my family. This has made me recognize new aspects of Stoicism. Previously I had conceived of Stoicism as especially useful to those with little or no power. As such, it helps us to focus our energies on the things we can control and learn to accept that which we cannot.

But lately, as my 'say-so' has risen (power is too strong a word), I have found that my stress has risen with it. Given that we are always seeking greater control, one might expect the opposite. But I think this happens because power is a strong temptation. When we are put in charge of something or made responsible for it, we get used to having more control than ordinary. We soon find ourselves expecting that greater level of control. It becomes even easier to fall prey to the delusion that we can control more than we do, and as that delusion intensifies, so too does our suffering.

So now I am thinking that I must begin to approach Stoicism less from an Epictetan point of view, and more from an Aurelian one. Surely the emperor saw something of use in Stoicism that he chose it as a remedy for his affliction of power. We'll see how this line of thought progresses.


  1. HolyRomanEmperorJuly 18, 2007 at 4:40 PM

    I noticed you said "In this year I have found myself in a leadership role in my community organization, my profession, and soon, my family."

    What do you mean by "and soon, my family"?

    Are you expecting the "ponder ponder of little minds" in the near future?

    (In case that didn't come across right, I meant it as a parallel to the "pitter patter of little feet").

    What's up?

  2. No definitely not (ever). Our niece was about to come live with us but it turns out she'll be staying with another uncle instead.

  3. As an emperor our sphere of influence may be greater compared to a slave. Still, it has bounds and we will be confronted by the realization that some things are outside our control. This confrontation may take place sooner or later, but it is likely to occur for the man who thinks about his own thinking.

    Thus the emperor is as likely to benefit from Stoicism as the slave.

    As humans we can live quite different lives and yet share a great deal. Aurelius and Epictetus may not have shared the same type of physical, social or political life but they may have shared a quite similar cerebral life.

    And of course, Stoicism is all about the cerebral more than the physical. It is about 'attitude' more than 'altitude'.

    Thanks for the great blog, it makes good reading, I should post more.

  4. Interesting. Thanks for reading and for the comment Alan. Yes, please feel free to comment in the future. :)