Stoicism has touched the lives of many, and it continues to be shared across the world through podcasts, videos, comics and literature. The philosophy has been transformative in the lives of Kai Whiting and Leonidas Konstantakos, the authors of Being Better: Stoicism For A World Worth Living In.
Through examining the lives and examples of people like Marcus Aurelius, Zeno and Sphaerus, Whiting and Konstantakos provide insight into how Stoicism can be interpreted today and why it’s more relevant than ever before.
Determining virtues, vices and living with Nature
Being Better starts with an admirable introduction into the basics of Stoicism and then moves towards analysing how concepts such as virtues and vices can be examined through the lens of modern Stoicism.
To do this, the authors look to the real-life examples of modern figures who’ve helped to make a difference in recent history. This includes Formula 1 racer Alex Zanardi, venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, CEO of Chobani yogurt Hamdi Ulukaya, novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and civil rights activist Claudette Colvin to name a few.
While these people may not have been Stoics, they certainly displayed Stoic principles of justice, wisdom, self-control and courage in their own lives and it was fascinating to read about their struggles through a Stoic prism.
Following the lessons of the ancients
Being Better isn’t short on wisdom from the ancient Stoics, with Whiting and Konstantakos focusing on the lives of Marcus Aurelius, Zeno, Epictetus, Cato, Cleanthes and more. Each chapter ends with questions asked from the perspective of each of these ancient philosophers, inviting the reader to be more thoughtful about how they approach life.
An ancient philosopher I found particularly interesting was Sphaerus, who I hadn’t heard of before reading the book. He trained under Zeno and took it upon himself to try and influence the kings of Sparta to embrace their old ways and stamp out corruption.
There’s a fascinating story about how the Spartan queen Agiatis became determined to honour the wishes of her former husband Agis and Sphaerus. She agreed to marry the new king Klemones and they worked together to try and introduce the change that Sphaerus had hoped to bring in.
In between modern and ancient wisdom, the authors talk about their own experiences with Stoicism and how it’s impacted their lives. In particular, Whiting is extremely passionate, speaking of his focus on environmentalism and how Stoicism crosses cultures and has a lot in common with religions such as the Islamic faith.
Moving and inspirational, Being Better is packed full of great Stoic insights from two writers who speak candidly about how Stoicism could help to build a better world. Even if it’s not a philosophy you choose to embrace, you’ll come away having learned something new and it may inspire you to think differently.