I recently chatted with author and podcast host Anderson Silver, who’s committed to helping others through talking about Stoicism on his podcast Stoicism For A Better Life and sharing insights in his books.
Read on to learn more about how Silver became started his Stoic journey, his approach to content production and what to expect from him in the future.
Good to chat Anderson. Before we get into your projects, it’d be great to learn more about how you were introduced to Stoicism and how it’s impacted your life.
Naturally this is a common question I get and I wish I had a cool story to tell. I wish I could say “It was some words from a wise role model” or “I was sitting on a mountain top thinking for 12 days straight.” Alas, the story of how I got introduced to Stoicism was by sheer random luck.
I was purchasing some books on Amazon before going on a trip down South, and Amazon’s algorithm (in its infinite wisdom) recommended me a book called Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic. I already had 6 books in my shopping cart for a 7-day trip, so by all counts I should not have purchased the book. All thanks to some excess wine and late-night shopping therapy, I decided to just click on it and buy it.
The rest is history! As I read these words from 2,500 years ago, it all just resonated for me. Fast forward a decade, and now I’m teaching it to others (although I always tell my students and mentees that they should listen to what I have to say at their own risk!)
As for its impact I mean can I say it has impacted everything? Seriously, the way I eat, sleep, work, think, the kind of husband, partner and father I am, the way I do my job, the way I parent, the way I plan my weekends…all of it. My friends affectionately refer to my past as the “before times”, as I am a very different human being compared to say ten years ago.
Through your podcast Stoicism for A Better Life, you introduce short exercises that people can carry out throughout the day. Was this short episodic approach always intended when you created the podcast, or did it turn out differently than you originally planned?
My books, my articles and my podcasts are all unconventionally short. This is by design. One of our school’s major focus is on maximising time, as time is the only resource, we cannot make more of. As such, we focus on being efficient with our activities in any given present moment.
So, let us think about this logically: If you have a choice between reading a 100-page book and a 350-page book that will leave you with the exact same takeaway content (i.e. lessons you take away from the book), wouldn’t any reasonable and rational person want to read the shorter one?
I have applied this same concept to all my work, including the podcasts. My books are all 100-150 pages, my podcast episodes are 5-10 minutes, and the articles are rarely more than a couple of paragraphs. This way my reader can absorb more life lessons and more content that is valuable for them, instead of reading another 200 pages of personal stories.
Same way, the listeners can get the information and motivation they need in 5 minutes. This is better for my audience, and the world. Wasted time is wasteful for everyone.
Patreon has been a useful platform for helping you interact with people and getting funds to build your website and launch your books. I think there’s a connection of this kind of social support that can be viewed through a Stoic lens and would be interested to get your take on it.
The school of Stoicism gets its name from the Stoa, which was like a covered terrace where men could sit around and exchange ideas and chat. I am so thankful that I live in a time with access to this digital Stoa.
When I wrote my first book, I wrote it as a one-off. But then there was so much demand for it, more than I could have imagined. And if it was not for this digital Stoa, I would not have learned about this appetite out there for this kind of wisdom and I would not have had the opportunity to interact with my interlocutors over the years.
Add on top of it all the quarantine and isolation that came with the pandemic, and I appreciate everything the online Stoa has allowed me to do, mainly relating to the exchange of information.
Specifically with respect to Patreon, I have a very small footprint on Patreon. At any given time, I have only 10-15 Patrons. But that is all it takes to help fund my platform and look at what my Patrons helped finance!
Sure, it is just a simple website, but it is something that would not have existed before. This way, all my work can finally be centralised for others to access and use, and my Patrons know they helped make this happen. Of course, I am using the website as an example (as it is the most recent addition to Stoicism for a Better Life). But what I find beautiful is that all my work following the first book (so completing the 2nd and 3rd books, weekly articles, website, Podcast series, etc…) all of it is done by me in my spare time and funded by my active Patrons at that time to benefit the next generation of listeners.
In other words, one group of Patrons fund the work for the next group, who then fund the work for the next. If our goal is to work together to make a better place, then this is model that we should try and emulate in all aspects of our lives!
Which is why I try and remind my followers that if you find my content to be an educational resource and see the value and benefit it brings to the world, consider supporting me at patreon.com/AndersonSilver.
You’ve written three books on Stoicism, with your latest being called Your Dichotomy Of Control. What themes does the book cover and how does it differ from your previous releases?
Your Dichotomy of Control is a continuation of the logical though process the books aim to achieve. For starters, Your User’s Manual just paints a picture of reality (It’s a reality check for your rational mind).
Once an appeal is made to your rational mind (i.e., your intelligence, logic and reason), the second book (Your Duality Within), concerns itself with guiding the reader to further distinguish between the rational mind and the emotional (primitive) mind, with the goal of strengthening your Prohairesis (capacity for judgment, which is part of your rational mind).
This then segues into the third book (Your Dichotomy of Control) which guides the reader to better control their discourse internally, and their actions externally.
One of the misconceptions of Stoicism is that we give up control to the universe and just go with the way things are. Although this is true in many ways, Stoicism is not as passive as people think it to be. In fact, this is one of the main reasons I subscribe to the school of Stoicism, as I cannot operate on faith. I feel the need to do something, achieve something, accomplish something, control something.
I recognise that I am nothing but star dust, and that my time and work here is ultimately meaningless (in the cosmic scale of things), however I also recognise that I am alive and present. I still have a life to live and living in passivity does not appeal to me. I want to take control of what I can and do the best I can at it.
And this is what the third book is focused on: Help the reader identify what is it they can control (vs what they can merely influence) and work towards that end. It is an exercise in being less wasteful with our time in trying to accomplish our lives goals.
Stoicism continues to evolve in the modern day, and do you think there are any ideas from the ancient Stoics that you think could be updated for contemporary audiences?
Yes and no. It all depends at what level we are conversing. If we are talking about the human conditions, then no there is no need to update them. This goes back to my first introduction to Stoicism.
I could not believe that I was reading a 2.5K year old text that sounded like it was whining about the same daily mundane feelings, interpretations and thoughts I have. And if human beings have been living under this same condition for thousands of years, why should we reinvent the wheel?
On the other hand, although the ancients dealt with snarky, rude, selfish people, and although they dealt with liars and thieves and the anxieties of what it all means and why we are here, our modern reality today is quite different in how we are exposed to the same stress factors and existential bummers.
With social media, technology, globalisation, overpopulation and resource management it would be silly to think we are not exposed to more of these stress factors more often. Is it any surprise then that there are so many mental disorders in the world today?
So, it does take a good amalgamation of the two: ancient wisdom applied to modern day problems.
Which of the ancient Stoics do you feel you’ve taken the most inspiration from?
Depending on the day and depending on the challenge I am trying to overcome, I will draw inspiration from different people. Lest we forget, the entirety of the Stoicism for a Better Life platform began with my own reflections (Your user’s manual are excerpts from my own personal journal). So, it would be unfair to give any one ancient’s words more weight over the other. To further complicate matters, most (like me) write about and rehash their predecessors’ thoughts!
With that said, as a father, provider, manager, coach, mentor, author and podcast host I have probably leaned more from Marcus Aurelius’ words than anyone else. Which is ironic, because Marcus’ Meditations have more re-hashed/re-filtered ideas from other philosophers (most notable Seneca) than any other Stoic I know of.
But this makes total sense, because his Meditations is exactly that: His own meditations. They are excerpts from his own journal (or what survived of it) where he is talking to himself to challenge himself, and better himself.
What other types of philosophy have had an impact on your life?
When it comes to ancient philosophies, Stoicism and the Buddha Dharma resonated with me. I read into Epicureanism and Cynicism and Scepticism as well and I have taken many things I like from them.
But they differ in the ultimate goal of life, because we have differing timeframes and thus place importance on different things. While an Epicurean is concerned about living a happy life by avoiding pain and suffering at every moment, a Stoic is more concerned with the species and will then be concerned with living a happy life by working towards the betterment of humanity.
Like I say all the time, everyone has a different and unique purpose in life. When you find your purpose, you can begin to live a good life. And even though I am a Stoic, Your User’s Manual is geared to help all readers find their own unique purpose.
Also, René Descartes is the Godfather of modern philosophy as far as I am concerned, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Arthur Schopenhauer, Jean Paul Sartre, as well as Søren Kierkegaard have all left an impact with me. Last, but not least, Fredrich Nietzsche is just a beast and I often go back to his works.
If you could go back in time and ask anything of the ancient Stoics, what would it be and why?
I will share with you the exact reflection I had when I read this question. It will give a sense of how Stoicism has shaped my thought process.
My immediate knee-jerk reaction (from my primitive mind’s autopilot): My first reaction to this is to try and think of the best possible question I can ask to the best possible Stoic to make the most of my one question!
My rational mind kicks in and create the internal duality (the conversation within): I realise that this would be an impossible exercise. I could spend a lifetime chatting with just one ancient, let alone trying to boil down the essence of my queries into a single question.
My rational mind takes over and makes a decision for an intention: Having the capacity to ask one question to an ancient through time is a superb gift and opportunity. If using this opportunity to try and learn more “Stoicism” is an exercise in futility, the only other logical thing to do would be to use the opportunity for the purpose of cultivating my relationships with my interlocutors.
Are there any upcoming projects you’re excited to talk about?
I am finalising the release of Season 3 of the podcast. Once that is done, I will set my sights on my next book. It will be about journaling. As far as our school is concerned, journaling is the most powerful tool we have at our disposal.
But I will take a small break to interact with my followers. With the release of my third book (Your Dichotomy of Control) in November and Season 3 of the podcast series I have been inundated with fans reaching out.
When the interest to interact with me dies down, I will shift my attention to my book. My goal is to help make the world a better place, one conversation at a time. So, if fans reach out to me with questions, it absolutely takes priority over all the other work I do. A person who is striking a conversation with me on how to improve themselves is exactly who I do this work for.