As those of you who frequent Twitter will have noticed, tomorrow marks the beginning of the second Live Like A Stoic Week, coordinated by a team at Exeter working on Stoicism Today to research whether Stoicism still works in the modern world. I meant to get involved last year, but life intervened. Life is again intervening this year, but as I type, my little printer is preparing the Stoic Week Booklet and I have just diligently filled out all the pre-Stoic Week measurement scales.
I am, of course, not the target audience for this exercise in any way, shape or form. I spend most of my intellectual research time hanging out with Seneca, one of the best plain-speaking Stoics out there. One of his major goals is to communicate what Stoicism can do for you clearly, effectively and persuasively to a highly educated Roman audience who may not automatically be on side. It’s quite hard to spend most of your time reading this stuff without it getting to you. I’m also quite well disposed to Stoic thought generally; the first time I read the discourses of Epictetus, a slightly later Roman Stoic, I was struck by how contemporary a lot of what he was saying felt and how it resonated with my situation (I was a MPhil student at the time, but we can draw a veil over that). What will be different about this week is seeing whether I can actually put some of this stuff into practice in a conscious instead of an unconscious way. As I keep telling people, ancient philosophies like Stoicism and Epicureanism are ways of life that not only explain how the universe operates but also affect how their adherents live. The challenge of putting that into practice is not a bad reminder for me that these words mean something – I’ve said them so often that there’s a risk I’m forgetting how much they actually matter.
Besides my professional studier-of-Stoics identity, I also worry a little that my week is not going to be typical. I am, as some of you will have noticed, in the middle of a house move. My study is in boxes around me as I type. Much of the last month has been spent trying to get a bathroom refitted (without much success so far). I’ve spent the weekend packing and cleaning, and next Saturday we will move and spend the rest of the weekend unpacking. So this is not a week in which I can apply Stoicism to my usual tranquil(ish) routine and see if it makes a difference. It is a week in which, actually, a bit of Stoic detachment and awareness of what is and isn’t within my control might not be a bad thing – but it’s also a week in which Stoicism is going to get a proper test, in circumstances which are rather trying. After all, moving house is meant to be one of the most stressful life events that one ever goes through. Let’s see how Stoicism and I stand up to the challenge together.