It’s become fashionable in some circles to lump stoicism in with other, less than desirable traits like aggression, when talking about male behaviour. There is even an ongoing argument in the American Psychological Association about how it was controversially included as a harmful trait in their guidelines. Harvard professor, Steven Pinker argued the APA was misguided, “Stoicism is a good quality, not, as the new guidelines say, harmful”. He’s on the money when he argues that the guidelines should encourage “the masculine virtues — dignity, responsibility, self-control, and self-reliance.” All of these are the qualities and virtues of manhood that we should be celebrating.
What is stoicism? Its origins go back to a school of Roman philosophy with proponents that sound like the cast of Gladiator. Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, playwright and political advisor Seneca, and the upwardly mobile slave, turned teacher Epictetus. But before we all don our tunics and sandals and face the lions in the Colosseum there are some modern-day and relevant ideas tied up in stoicism. Much of its underlying message is actually what underpins “mindfulness”. Stoicism taught its followers the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions. Stoic philosophy advocates accepting life’s challenges, which often are not within our control, and then focus on what to do with the given situation, which is within our control. “We can’t change what is, we can only change our reaction to it”.
These days the use of the word stoicism has incorrectly incorporates a “push on regardless” attitude by men in particular. It is used as a negative description for blokes failing to address ongoing health concerns by ignoring the warning signs and self-medicating by purely concentrating on their work. This is without a doubt a very dangerous attitude, but real stoicism needs to be celebrated. Every great invention, discovery or work of human endeavour has been a result of stoic behaviour. It is a trait not only found in men but women also, and it is a quality to be admired. Pregnancy and childbirth are just two examples that come to mind that couldn’t possibly be achieved without a degree of stoicism.
Like anything health related, be it food, exercise, or even sunlight, the trick is “everything in moderation”. If being stoic is the only plan in our playbook, then the results will be negative. However if we learn when to be stoic, and importantly, when to ask for help, our lives will benefit immeasurably.
The Stoics of old, recognized that wellbeing depends on the cultivation of one’s character, on one’s choices and actions, rather than on what happens in the uncontrollable world around us. It is something that the Regional Men’s Health Initiative advocate every day; that the bulk of our health outcomes are influenced primarily by the choices we make and if we can be well-informed, and make informed decisions, then positive health outcomes will follow.
Working with Warriors® Podcast Series. These podcasts launched on the 19th June 2020 are based on conversations around men’s wellbeing and health from our “Working with Warriors”® education sessions. These short podcasts regarding a man’s approach to his wellbeing and health are now available to listen via our website or on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and numerous other podcast directories.
Glen and the Team
The Regional Men’s Health Initiative
delivered by Wheatbelt Men’s Health (Inc.)
PO Box 768, Northam WA 6401
Phone: 08 9690 2277