“For philosophy doesn’t consist in outward display, but in taking heed to what is needed and being mindful of it.” –Musonius Rufus
I have been asked “what is an HR philosopher?” by many since I started this blog. Well, I can only speak for myself, and I will do what I can to explain what I believe it to be.
In a previous blog post, I discuss the book “The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness.” The book is a modern interpretation (by Sharon Lebell) of The Enchiridion and Discourses. Both works are the legacy of Epictetus, a former Roman slave turned Stoic philosopher, who became teacher to Marcus Aurelius – eventual Roman Emperor.
Stoicism has been experiencing something of a resurgence, for lack of a better term, over the past decade or so. It’s a misunderstood philosophy. Many erroneously believe that being stoic means showing or having no emotions. This couldn’t be further from the truth!
Stoicism is about being aware of and controlling one’s emotions, so they do not control the mind, and by extension, people’s thoughts, actions, and beliefs. Through the work of entrepreneurs like Ryan Holiday – the author behind The Obstacle is the Way, Ego Is the Enemy, and the website The Daily Stoic – popular blogs and podcasts from popular blogs such as the Art of Manliness, and prominent academics like William Ferraiolo, classical Stoicism has been introduced and better explained to people who otherwise may not have known the philosophy ever existed. And it has been adapted and interpreted through our hectic modern lenses.
My journey into philosophy began several years ago when I was in a rut. I felt lost and unsure about where I was headed or what I believed. I felt that my emotions had led me astray, or worse, hadn’t been helping me understand what I wanted to be or where I wanted to go. I then, thankfully, randomly picked up “The Art of Living” while perusing a local book store. No where on the book cover did it mention “stoicism.” However, I needed help understanding “living.” The book was in the bargain section, so I figured why not give it a try!
As I read the introduction, I discovered that it was based on Stoic philosophy. Particularly influential to me was what Epictetus thought the true meaning of philosophy was, which is captured in the following passages:
“True philosophy doesn’t involve exotic rituals, mysterious liturgy, or quaint beliefs. Nor is it just abstract theorizing and analysis. It is, of course, the love of wisdom. It is the art of living a good life.”
“Philosophy is intended for everyone, and it is authentically practiced only by those who wed it with action in the world toward a better life for all.”
Philosophy is meant for everyone – more specifically, Epictetus’ philosophy is meant for everyone. It’s meant to be a practical tool for everyday people to use as a guide for a happy life. Note: “Happy” in a stoic context isn’t to be interpreted as “pleasure” – that’s a modern translation. In a stoic context, a happy life is a “flourishing” life – happiness is acting virtuously in all situations.
Why am I discussing this? What does a philosophy from ancient Greece and Rome have to do with human resource management?
Well, in my experience. Everything! If I accept Epictetus’ declaration that philosophy is for everyone to better their everyday lives, I have a duty to take my Stoic studying and practices and incorporate them in my daily life. And since we spend a majority of our time at work, focusing philosophy on our work life is crucial to building a happy fulfilling life. HR is a major factor in my professional life. So, melding Stoicism with HR practice is key for me. This is where the HR Philosopher got its start!
Stoic philosophy is about living your best life and acting on what is right. So, in essence, I take that to heart.
Doing HR right is an act of philosophy to me. It is always important to create space to think, put things into perspective, and act on what is right.
And that’s something that will take an entire lifetime (or career, in a work context) to master!
I have been studying and attempting to practice the tenants for the past few years, but I am NOT an expert on Stoicism by any means. I’m simply someone who tries to do what is right, which is the point!
The focus of Stoicism is how to lead a happy fulfilling life and becoming the best version of yourself possible through focusing on that which is in one’s control, ignoring that which is not within one’s control, overcoming adversity, practicing self-control, being conscience of one’s impulses, and being mindful of humanity’s ephemeral nature.
All those things can be applied by an HR practitioner, a professional in any setting, or anyone for any reason! At the end of the day, do what is right.
I think. I HR. Therefore, I do the right thing. It’s a simple, and hopefully effective, way to describe what I believe an HR Philosopher to be.
For more articles* on Stoic principles and practices that can be applied personally or professionally (or both ideally), please consider reading: