Talk: Stoicism and Humanism in the New Year

4 minutes, 17 seconds Read

I recently addressed the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia‘s 2016 Winter Solstice gathering offering short remarks about Humanism drawing on Stoic Philosophy encouraging people to think about the new year, reflect on 2016, and find meaning in life.

The recording is here:

View more videos in my Stoic Philosophy YouTube series:

More information about my January 8, 2017 discussion group in Willow Grove, PA:

Hosting Stoic Philosophy Discussion on January 8

Rough transcript of talk:

Thanks to everyone for attending this event and spending your time with fellow humanists. Thanks to the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia for inviting me to speak encouraging me to offer short thoughts about Humanism this season of the Winter Solstice.

What is Humanism? In 2003, the American Humanist Assocation published the Humanist Manifesto III in a short document titled ‘Humanism and its Aspirations’ which states,

“Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity. The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully.”

Living well and fully, what does that mean? Might you reflect on job satisfaction? Pleasure? Contentment? Happiness? The quality of your relationships with friends, family, or significant others? Physical health? Education? A combination of these things and more? What is it that you value?

How can you help make the world a better place and improve your quality of life? Might you be able to, in guiding your life by reason as the Humanist Manifesto III suggests, reduce stress in your life by making better decisions?

With the new year approaching, many people consider New Year’s Resolutions, reflect on the current year, and plan for the future. How might you look forward, reflect on the past, and improve your life? Perhaps reflection about Humanism and the Humanist Manifesto III can help.

According to the Humanist Manifesto III, “Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals.”

Perhaps participation with the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia and similar groups can help you find more fulfillment in life. Personally, I value conversation with like-minded people and treasure productive discussion I can have in secular groups which I usually don’t or can’t have elsewhere. Participating in communities can help provide support to others, encourage others to self-reflect, broaden horizons, and send a simple message of ‘you are not alone.’

The Humanist Manifesto III also states, “Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships.”

Perhaps it can be alluring to be cynical, lament relationships which have failed and isolate oneself from others. Occasionally, it may be good to take a break from extended social interactions and focus on yourself, your hobbies, and gain a new perspective, but it’s important to have meaningful relationships with others which allow us to gain feedback, be listened to, share concerns, and have fun. What else can we reflect on?

Clinical Psychologist Jordan B Peterson from the University of Toronto recently released 100 items he thinks everyone should know. Among them, he encouraged people to be grateful in spite of suffering. It may be easy to point to the setbacks in our lives, complain about things we do not like, and have a negative attitude, but it may be best to take a more balanced perspective of thinking about positives in our lives and our ability to overcome difficulties.

The Ancient Greek Philosopher Epictetus, in his Discourses on Stoic Philosophy, frequently mentioned our ability to endure hardships and encouraged us to be grateful for our valuable ability to use reason to align our judgments about the world in a fitting way to achieve contentment and not create misery for ourselves – quite similar to what is suggested in the Humanist Manifesto III.

Epictetus writes, “If you consider yourself as a man, and as part of the whole, than you should at one time be sick, at another, take a voyage, and be exposed to danger, sometimes be in want, and possibly it may happen die before your time. Why then are you displeased? For it is impossible, while we are in such a body, and among such companions, that such things should not befall us, some affecting one man, some another. It is thus your task to come forward and say what you ought and deal with these things as is fitting.”

We can find meaning, be engaged with others in the world around us, and embrace the lifestance of Humanism to enrich our lives looking forward to a new year and reflecting on this one even when we face inevitable hardship and suffering.

I invite you to join me at 2PM on Sunday, January 8 at the Upper Moreland Library in Willow Grove for further discussion of finding meaning in life through the perspective of Stoic Philosophy. More details are on the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia meetup page.

Have a great time today, thanks for your attention, and have a great holiday season!


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