Winter 2020 – Ryan Holiday – speaks about “Ancient Wisdom, Modern Life”

February 27th, author Ryan Holiday was the guest speaker at the 2020 Honor Courage and Commitment Luncheon, sponsored by the Stockdale Center, through the generous funding of Dr. Ernst and Sarah Volgenau. The Luncheon invites prominent national thought leaders and influencers to reflect on ethical leadership principles they have found powerful in their own lives. Mr. Holiday is known for several books that extol the practical fruits of the ancient Greek school of Stoicism. Stoicism, as an applied ethic, was the hallmark of the Stockdale Center’s namesake, Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale. Descending into enemy territory after his A-4 Skyhawk was shot out of the sky, Stockdale mentally framed what he knew would be a grueling indeterminate period of time by describing himself as moving from the “world of technology” into the “world of Epictetus,” the central Stoic philosopher. Ryan Holliday is a modern Stoic, frequently found in high-powered circles, from NFL locker rooms to the opinion column of the New York Times. He describes his Stoicism as an application of the four cardinal virtues: courage, moderation, justice, and wisdom. Such virtues permeate depictions of ideal human behavior, ancient and modern: in a case study of President John F. Kennedy’s response to the Cuban Missile Crisis, Holiday spoke to the young president’s success as a diplomat, using time as a “tool, rather than a couch,” in the face of a potentially world-ending cataclysm. Stoicism applied, declared Holiday, is more than recognizing these virtues: it is living them, in today’s modern rush something unimaginable in the world of Epictetus. Holiday’s concern with applicable stoicism led to his development of seven practical aphorisms. First, modern stoicism is all about response– living an “ideal of excellence” requires reasoned responses to any type of problem. Next, in a fashion well-received by the Naval Academy audience, Holiday announced that individuals are nothing without their training: Stockdale the principal example of this. Third, ego is the enemy: according to Cyril Connolly, “whoever the gods wish to destroy, they first call promising.” Always stay a student, Holiday implored. Next, he advised that quiet time is essential, invoking the venerable practices of General James Mattis. The next aphorism dealt with the importance of moral courage. Principles aren’t free: belief requires action, exemplified by figures such as John McCain and Colonel Thomas Higginson. Finally, he noted with a smile, we are made for each other. Unity is essential to the application of the modern Stoic ideal. “This is a time that needs heroes and opportunity,” Holiday said in closing. We live in a world Epictetus would, at first, be completely foreign to: the constant rush demanded by 24/7 media and constantly evolving and growing obligations would, perhaps, unnerve the Greek philosopher, a former slave. However, as Holiday vibrantly declared, Epictetus–and his modern counterparts–are all best served by taking a breath, perhaps engaging with a new book, and continually working to apply time’s venerated tenants to live a life of modern success guided by ancient wisdom, no matter the circumstances.

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