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10 Ancient Lessons For A Modern Audience

Live Like Louise is a website that aims to help women achieve their health and fitness goals. Created by Louise Thompson of Made In Chelsea, it’s perhaps not the audience you might expect to be interested in philosophy.

But there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be, and after hosting an interview with Donald Robertson recently the feedback from them was very positive:

At the start of what I found to be a very entertaining conversation between Donald Robertson and Scott Flear, Donald talks about his method of teaching philosophy through the telling of ancient anecdotes.

The interview itself took a similar format, so I thought I’d share some of the best stories and lessons as short digestible summaries. If you’d like to listen to the whole interview, you can do so here:

1. Socrates & Critobulus

• Critobulus asks Socrates to help him make friends in Athens
• Socrates asks Critobulus to list the qualities in an ideal friend
• Critobulus obliges
• Socrates asks, “How many of these qualities do you have?”
• Critobulus – “Ermm…”

Lesson: Work on your own character first and you will attract the same.

2. The Reserve Clause

• The Stoics didn’t discourage the pursuit of external goals
• They just caveated that they should be pursued with the acceptance that they might not be achieved
• “Neurosis is caused by inflexible demands.” – Albert Ellis

Lesson: Having strong preferences leads to more contentment than having inflexible demands.

3. Epictetus On Mindfulness

• A person walking barefoot takes care not to walk on jagged rocks
• The same care should be taken with what we focus our minds on
• 🇬🇷 Prosochē = Attention

Lesson: Continually be aware of how you’re using your mind and applying your value judgments.

4. The Choice Of Hercules

• Hercules finds himself at a fork in the road
• The goddess Kakia offers the path of luxury (vice). The goddess Aretê offers adversity (virtue)
• He chooses virtue and later gains the status of a God

Lesson: It’s better to face hardship and grow than embrace easy-living and stagnate.

5. Time Projection

If you’re upset now about something that has already happened, ask yourself how you’ll feel about it:

• Tomorrow
• Next week
• Next year
• In ten years

Lesson: If you won’t be worried about it in ten years, why waste time on it now?

6. Wisdom For Adversity

• There are many reversals of fortune in life
• Complaint adds suffering to suffering
• There’s always something to be grateful for
• To over-react is to prevent rational thinking

Lesson: Perspective is the key to coping with adversity.

7. Socrates & Sheep

• If you were a shepherd, would you know how many sheep you had?
• Yes
• Are friends more important than sheep?
• Yes
• How many friends do you have?
• That depends on how you define a friend
• You don’t know how many friends you have but you say they are more important than sheep, huh?
• 😕

Lesson: Consider what friendship means to you and keep in mind who your friends are based on that.

8. Aesop’s Bags

• We all have two bags hanging round our neck
• One bag hangs in front and is full of everyone else’s flaws
• The other hangs behind and is filled with our flaws

Lesson: We’re often quick to see the flaws of others but are blind to our own.

9. Stoic Empathy

• No-one is perfectly wise
• The Stoics didn’t even consider Zeno as such
• Seneca told Lucilius not to think of him as an expert, but as a fellow patient in a hospital with more experience of the treatment

Lesson: ”We exist for the sake of one another” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 8.59

10. On Feeling Lost

• If you’re feeling lost in life, it means you at least have a clear goal of clarifying your values
• This can be done by seeking more wisdom
• If nothing else, your experiences can be shared to help others

Lesson: ”Philosophy” = “love of wisdom.”