Being Better – Kai Whiting, Leonidas Konstantakos


Paperback: 200 pages ISBN-10: 1608686930 ISBN-13: 978-1608686933



In Being Better, Kai Whiting and Leonidas Konstantakos apply Stoic principles to contemporary issues such as social justice, climate breakdown, and the excesses of global capitalism. They show that Stoicism is not an ivory-tower philosophy or a collection of Silicon Valley life hacks but a vital way of life that helps us live simply, improve our communities, and find peace in a turbulent world.


Stoicism is a practical philosophy that provides an antidote for troubled times, while it also keeps our ego and excesses in check when things are going well.

Stoicism won’t remove all of life’s obstacles, but it helps us to think differently about them. It won’t provide us with all the answers, but it gives us the ability to form the questions that ultimately lead to the solutions.

Stoicism works because it is designed to help us find meaning and take positive action regardless of our circumstances and how we feel about them. It asks us to commit to seeking and progressing in virtue rather than mere pleasure, to value long-term character building over short-term gains, and to hold ourselves accountable to our own moral code rather than adhering to arbitrary rules or following practices promoted by the latest celebrity or guru. Stoicism isn’t focused on esoteric or abstract matters. It is not about specific practices or philosophical life hacks or strategies for getting ahead. Nor does it offer up tips or tricks for shaping our abs, gaining likes on social media, doubling our salary overnight, or tidying up our living space. Instead, it makes it very clear that becoming the best version of ourselves involves striving for an excellent character — one that can effectively help us create a world worth living in — both for ourselves and for others.

Nobody could sit in the Oracle’s presence until they had properly considered the dangers of misinterpreting her advice and also understood and pledged to abide by the three maxims of self-discovery: “know yourself,” “nothing to excess,” and “surety brings ruin.

A principle is a proposition or value that guides our thoughts, actions, and judgment. It is the essence of our moral operating system, and not unlike a compass, it directs our steps. Given that the signposts on the Stoic path are principles rather than rules and regulations, we must think for ourselves every step of the way. No quote on a fridge or scribble in a journal will change that fact. Nothing provides insight if we don’t take the time to check our bearings and ready ourselves for the twists and turns that lie ahead.

Sooner or later, you must also decide if you stand for something or if you are just standing around, letting others speak up, waiting for them to make the difference in the world, your world.

Zeno held that excellent character must be the guiding light for our interactions with other people and the world around us, exemplified by our adherence and enactment of the four Stoic virtues of courage, justice, self-control, and wisdom.

Nothing in Stoicism is merely done for our own sake. In fact, a Stoic would go as far as to say that if our thoughts, actions, and attitude do not benefit the whole (world, country, community, family, and so on), then we are very much mistaken in thinking that they will benefit us!

Of course, we are far from perfect and do succumb to lapses or errors in judgment. However, we don’t dwell on our mistakes or beat ourselves up about them because that is not what Stoicism calls for. Instead, it asks us to humbly recognize that the most important thing is that we are on the right path, looking the right way, and (hopefully) edging toward eudaimonia

Everything he did was focused on cultivating good character, a sound mind, and a strong, healthy body. For Stoics, that is what is meant by virtue because virtue is to be lived.

Conversely, if a person consistently shies away from facing problems or tackles them poorly, then, as with a muscle, their virtue will diminish.

Just like Cato, all of us should put our best foot forward because that’s what puts us in a position to make a difference. The better prepared we are, the more likely we are to make that difference. That does not mean that focusing on what lies within our control is easy. Sometimes it is very difficult. Other times it is practically impossible. Stoicism invites us to try in any case. Stoicism asks us “to give it our best shot.”

Lead me Zeus, and thou O Destiny. Lead me wherever your laws assign me. . . . Fate guides the willing but drags the unwilling. — Cleanthes, The Hymn to Zeus

As contemporary philosopher Alain de Botton explains when discussing the Stoic cart: We can as easily go astray by accepting the unnecessary and denying the possible, as by denying the necessary and wishing, for the impossible. It is for reason to make the distinction.

Difficult circumstances demand more effort, not less.

For the Stoics, fortune, both good and bad, like just about everything else, is an opportunity to build character. We don’t often develop good character when, as contemporary Stoic practitioner Chris Fisher points out, the seas of our life are smooth and the winds are calm and steady, blowing in the direction of our desires.

Panaetius established the Stoic idea that everyone has four roles. The first and primary role is given to us by the virtue of being a rational human being, that is, someone who is able to reason; it is universal to everyone.* The second is shaped by our individual nature: our likes, dislikes, personality traits, and odd quirks. The third is dependent on our personal circumstances, which include where we were born, where we now live, whether we have children or elderly parents, and how much money or social influence we have. The fourth relates to the professional path we wish to take in life. It includes our career choices, the job that we are trained to do, and the corresponding knowledge that we acquire.

All four roles combine to determine our moral obligations, responsibilities, and the steps we will take in our journey toward eudaimonia.

Even talk-show host Trevor Noah did so in a tongue-in-cheek attempt to show how pervasive the misuse of the term socialism has become in America.18 When used in a derogatory fashion to derail anyone who attempts to use capitalist mechanisms to share the fruits of its spoils, the term really is nothing more than a thinly veiled threat leveled by those who are frightened of losing power and privilege in the game they have rigged.

And as for doing the right thing for the right reason, that’s not socialism. That’s Stoicism!

The finest and most fitting fruits for those who have received a true philosophical education are peace of mind, fearlessness, and freedom. . . .Thus,, none but the educated can be free. — Epictetus, Discourses 2.1.21–23

From his blueprint for a Stoic education, the need for a strong sense of concord and self-sufficiency emerged, two important qualities he captured in his reestablishment and innovation of the Spartan agoge.8

For Stoics, virtue happens when our character is perfectly aligned with Nature, as demonstrated by our firm and unyielding conviction that we are doing all that lies within our power to think and act prudently, bravely, moderately, and justly.

If you believe the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, and you refuse to consider anything else, then the evidence of every day will upset you, and nothing will alleviate your troubled life.

We start to see beyond our own desires for instant gratification and set our sights on what we actually want: a life in harmony with our inner thoughts, our community, and the environment.

Speaking personally, Leo and I do not experience this state of being all the time, or even every day, but we do feel it increasingly often, and we have Stoicism to thank for it.

Staying on the path is not about never getting knocked down, but rather about how quickly we recover when things go awry.