The Stoic philosophy can fix this mess

Vice Admiral James B Stockdale was a naval fighter pilot about to be redeployed to Viet Nam War when he took graduate studies at Stanford, and became immersed in the philosophy of Stoicism, that helped him deal with his hardships when he was shot down, then held a prisoner for 7 years, becoming the Commanding Officer of the American prisoners at the Hanoi Hilton.  He was one of the most revered and honored Naval Aviators of all time, recipient of the Medal of Honor. 

Stockdale in his writings and his speeches made his case for the value of Stoicism, a moral and ethical philosophy originating with Seneca the younger, a Roman in the first Century AD, and with the teachings and writings of Epictetus, a Greek Slave brought to Rome, who was a teacher and scholar, and then with the last of the good Roman Emperors, Marcus Aurelius (2nd century AD).


Admiral James Stockdale (Navy photo).

Stockdale wrote Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot (Hoover Institution Press Publication, No. 431),Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus's Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior (Hoover Essays, No. 6) and A Vietnam Experience: Ten Years of Reflection (Hoover Press Publication Series: No. 3 15) advocating eloquently for the Stoic approach to life.  He wrote the books to explain his experience and how the Stoic philosophy helped him through the long captivity and is his method for dealing with life and its challenges.

The qualities that Stoics advocate are certainly needed in these difficult times; people need to start acting like adults who hold to virtuous and dignified conduct.  Aristotle presaged the Stoics with his teachings about ethics and morality; in his Nicomachean Ethics, he taught that the pursuit of happiness was not a pursuit of pleasure and ease, but the pursuit of living a virtuous life — the key to real happiness.  Aristotle taught the value of the Golden Mean.  There is more to the Stoics than suck it up; they assert the value of dignity and temperance of conduct and behavior, the fundamentals of civility, the importance of emotional well-being in the face of troubles and problems.  Most of all, they emphasize self-control and discipline in the search for a good and virtuous life — ponder that one and look around you at our society and culture.

Each of us is responsible for removing our judgments, mistaken beliefs, and conditioned responses that we hold in our minds.  Do as the Stoics teach — examine yourself, get control of yourself, learn to avoid anger that is self-destructive, and be mindful — that is, be conscious of how you are reacting to events and people, and measure it against what you think is the virtuous and mature, socially aware, adult standard for good conduct.  Challenge and test yourself; examine your reactions to your day-to-day experiences.  Challenge your reactions, your judgments, and be sure your conduct comports with your sense of what is virtuous.  Be mindful, and be a better person.  Some call it an inside out effort to change and be better.

When considering the teachings of the Stoics, I am sure the informed reader will be reminded of the teachings of Buddha, the Four Truths and the Eightfold Path.  Funny how good ideas travel.

New year resolution, maybe for your life?   We could wish that America would embrace the Stoic way and turn for the better.   

John Dale Dunn, M.D., J.D. is an emergency and corrections physician and an inactive attorney.

Vice Admiral James B Stockdale was a naval fighter pilot about to be redeployed to Viet Nam War when he took graduate studies at Stanford, and became immersed in the philosophy of Stoicism, that helped him deal with his hardships when he was shot down, then held a prisoner for 7 years, becoming the Commanding Officer of the American prisoners at the Hanoi Hilton.  He was one of the most revered and honored Naval Aviators of all time, recipient of the Medal of Honor. 

Stockdale in his writings and his speeches made his case for the value of Stoicism, a moral and ethical philosophy originating with Seneca the younger, a Roman in the first Century AD, and with the teachings and writings of Epictetus, a Greek Slave brought to Rome, who was a teacher and scholar, and then with the last of the good Roman Emperors, Marcus Aurelius (2nd century AD).


Admiral James Stockdale (Navy photo).

Stockdale wrote Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot (Hoover Institution Press Publication, No. 431),Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus's Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior (Hoover Essays, No. 6) and A Vietnam Experience: Ten Years of Reflection (Hoover Press Publication Series: No. 3 15) advocating eloquently for the Stoic approach to life.  He wrote the books to explain his experience and how the Stoic philosophy helped him through the long captivity and is his method for dealing with life and its challenges.

The qualities that Stoics advocate are certainly needed in these difficult times; people need to start acting like adults who hold to virtuous and dignified conduct.  Aristotle presaged the Stoics with his teachings about ethics and morality; in his Nicomachean Ethics, he taught that the pursuit of happiness was not a pursuit of pleasure and ease, but the pursuit of living a virtuous life — the key to real happiness.  Aristotle taught the value of the Golden Mean.  There is more to the Stoics than suck it up; they assert the value of dignity and temperance of conduct and behavior, the fundamentals of civility, the importance of emotional well-being in the face of troubles and problems.  Most of all, they emphasize self-control and discipline in the search for a good and virtuous life — ponder that one and look around you at our society and culture.

Each of us is responsible for removing our judgments, mistaken beliefs, and conditioned responses that we hold in our minds.  Do as the Stoics teach — examine yourself, get control of yourself, learn to avoid anger that is self-destructive, and be mindful — that is, be conscious of how you are reacting to events and people, and measure it against what you think is the virtuous and mature, socially aware, adult standard for good conduct.  Challenge and test yourself; examine your reactions to your day-to-day experiences.  Challenge your reactions, your judgments, and be sure your conduct comports with your sense of what is virtuous.  Be mindful, and be a better person.  Some call it an inside out effort to change and be better.

When considering the teachings of the Stoics, I am sure the informed reader will be reminded of the teachings of Buddha, the Four Truths and the Eightfold Path.  Funny how good ideas travel.

New year resolution, maybe for your life?   We could wish that America would embrace the Stoic way and turn for the better.   

John Dale Dunn, M.D., J.D. is an emergency and corrections physician and an inactive attorney.