Author, meditator, public relations strategist and bookstore owner Ryan Holiday has been hailed for “leading the charge for stoicism”, a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in the early 3rd century BC that maximises positive emotions, reduces negative emotions and helps individuals to hone their virtues of character.
In 2019, while building a sandcastle with his son and wondering what his next book would be, it suddenly hit him that not just a book on courage, one of the four virtues of stoicism, that had been geminating in his mind but a quartet also encompassing the other three qualities would be more in order. The outcome is The Stoic Virtues Series, with the first title, “Courage Is Calling – Fortune Favours The Brave” (Profile Books), having just been released.
“In the summer of 2019, my wife and I took our two sons for a hike in the Lost Pines Forest, a prehistoric loblolly forest about thirty minutes from our house (in Bastrop in Texas). As we wrapped up the hike…I was carrying my son in the backpack (and) my mind had drifted briefly to the fact that my book ‘Stillness is the Key’ would soon be released and it would mark the end of what had become a three-book trilogy.
“What would I tackle next? I thought. A book about courage would be cool. A few days later, we were on vacation in the panhandle in Florida. I was building a sandcastle with my son when suddenly, it hit me. Not just a book about courage, a series on the four virtues, starting with courage! And that’s how ‘The Stoic Virtues Series’ came to be,” Holiday told IANS in an interview.
“Let us not wait for other people to come to us and call upon us to do great deeds. Let us instead be the first to summon the rest to the path of honour. Show yourself to be the bravest of all captains, with more of a right to leadership than those who are our leaders at present,” proclaimed Greek military leader, philosopher and historian Xenophon (430-354 BC), making Courage the first of the four virtues, the other three being Temperance, Justice and Wisdom, adopted by most of Western philosophy but equally valued in Buddhism and Hinduism.
“The unfortunate reality is sometimes the right thing is a kamikaze mission, usually not literally, most often figuratively so. Sometimes our lance must be broken against the shield. Sometimes, we must be willing to go all the way. We must be willing to lose the job, lose the client, lose our good standing, break from our friends, make the sacrifice,” Holiday writes.
“Of course, that’s scary. We are up against our fear and our instinct for self-preservation.
“But we have been cultivating courage in our lives for a reason. It wasn’t just so we could be a little more successful. It wasn’t just so we could experience the things life had to offer, the things on the other side of fear.
“We cultivate courage so we can do important work that people are counting on.
“As Martin Luther King, Jr. said: ‘A time comes when silence is betrayal’,” Holiday writes.
Courage “is the management of and the triumph over fear. It’s the decision — in a moment of peril, or day in and day out to take ownership, to assert agency, over a situation, over yourself, over the fate that everyone else has resigned themselves to. We can curse the darkness or we can light a candle…What will you write your character to be? If cowardice is failure to do your duty, then courage is the decision to step up and do it,” the author writes.
Many readers may fault Holiday for making only a passing reference to Buddhist and Hindu philosophies. How is that? The Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Upanishads, the Vedas, and the Indus Valley Civilisation pre-date the Western world by centuries but have not got their due for a variety of reasons. With his present series, he is pre-eminently qualified to correct this. Will he step forward, as he exhorts his readers to do? Will this be seen in the remaining three books of the series?
“For and since my book, ‘Stillness Is the Key’, I’ve studied not just Stoicism, but Buddhism, Confucianism, Epicureanism, Christianity, Hinduism, and countless other philosophical schools and religions. I’m fascinated by how all of these ancient schools of thought say a lot of the same things just in different ways.
“The Stoic philosopher Seneca liked to say that no sage is wiser than another, that we should draw from every philosophical school and to study and read widely. That’s what I believe too, and what I’ve committed to doing. I think you will see that come through in my future books,” Holiday explained during the interview.
What prompted him to open his bookshop?
“The idea for the bookstore actually came from my wife – not from the writer in the family. Shortly after our second child was born, we were at a café in Bastrop, where we’ve lived since 2015. Across Main Street, there was an empty historic storefront, which is part of the National Register of Historic Places. And my wife said, ‘you know what would be great there? A bookstore’.
“I was skeptical. But in January of 2020, we put our life savings down on space. By February we’d hired our first employees and started from the community, and drawing people to this beautiful street on the bluffs of the Colorado River. Yet by the first week of March, what began with such excitement found me, for obvious reasons (the coronavirus pandemic), standing between the empty brick walls thinking: ‘I’ve made a huge mistake’.
“From the moment my wife suggested we open a small-town bookstore, everything has taken longer and been harder than we expected. But she was right. On the window of our shop, we have written in large letters: ‘Good things happen in bookstores. And we have repeatedly been reminded of this fact since finally, in late January of this year, the Painted Porch Bookshop cracked its doors open,” Holiday concluded.
That’s what stoicism and courage is all about!
(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)