I recently had the chance to chat with author William Ferraiolo, about the philosophy of Stoicism and what brought him to write his book, Meditations on Self-Discipline and Failure: Stoic Exercise for Mental Fitness.
Ferraiolo’s book reads as if the author is writing Stoic advice to himself. As Ferraiolo works through problems of living, he puts on paper proposed solutions to life difficulties from a Stoic perspective. Free from modern-day psychobabble and feel-good advice, the book offers thoughtful meditations on keeping your cool and living a flourishing life.
Question: What drew you to stoicism as a philosophy to live by?
William Ferraiolo: I destroyed my knee on my 18th birthday and lost my Army ROTC scholarship, so I needed to re-think my future. Casting about for a major, I found that I fell in love with philosophy and, after graduate school, I found The Discourses of Epictetus. It was love at first read.
Q: What was it that you loved most about Epictetus’ writings?
WF: I love the blunt brutality of Epictetus offering counsel to slackers, weaklings, and just those suffering from fairly standard inadequacies. No excuses are permitted. He’s a tough taskmaster. I like that.
Q: Aside from your book, what is your favorite Stoic text? Would that be something by Epictetus?
Q: How does stoicism help you in your day to day life?
WF: I inherited anxiety/depression from my father, as did both of my brothers. My brother, Vinny, committed suicide a few years ago because of this condition. I could have gone the same way had I not discovered a method of self-discipline and mitigating my tendency toward anger, insomnia, etc.
Q: Wow. Thank you for sharing that last bit about suicide. It seems that Seneca and Epictetus seemed to be okay with suicide, or perhaps even approved of suicide at some level, did they not?
WF: I just wrote a paper about Stoicism and suicide. I was supposed to deliver it at the Easter meeting of the American Philosophical Association, but the weather did not permit that. It should be published within a few months. The rule is: Death Before Dishonor or Degradation. Cato is a good example of choosing death rather than submission to a despot (or so he believed Caesar to be).
Q: I recall Epictetus saying something regarding suicide to the effect: if there is to much smoke in your house, leave – seemed to mean if you can’t take life, feel free to leave. Would you say that is an accurate interpretation?
WF: The message, in my judgment, is: Don’t complain. If life is “too much” for you, kill yourself. If you have not killed yourself, you must prefer continuing life to the alternative. So, do not go on living and bitch and moan about your life. Do not be a malignancy in the world. If you cannot help yourself…bye.
Stoic Philosophy of Life
Q: What do you see as the most important message from Stoicism?
WF: The most important message in Stoicism is that we must learn to distinguish between internals (that which is within the direct control of one’s will), and externals (that which is not “up to us”). We drive ourselves nuts trying to control or allowing ourselves to be upset by events over which we have no control.
Q: What habits do you have in place to practice the Stoic lifestyle?
WF: I use morning reminders, evening retrospectives, and keep a journal of reminders of my many flaws, failings, and inadequacies. I keep trying to improve – and frequently fail.
Q: How difficult do you find it to practice stoicism?
WF: Practicing is not very difficult, but making progress (indeed, not backsliding) is very challenging. The temptation to act impulsively is very powerful. I still have a bit of a temper, and my ego is far larger than is healthy.
Q: One last thing, what is your website and what is the best place for people to reach you?