Post by Spencer Willette, OMS-II
As we navigate these turbulent times, it’s important more than ever to remain calm, alert, and stoic. Whether you’re a busy ER physician or stressed out med-student, we all are facing adversity and disruption in our daily lives. In this episode the team discusses the importance of stoicism, jump starting the conversation with a quote from philosopher Epictetus “We suffer not from the events in our lives, but from our judgement about them.” We often attribute the term ‘stoic’ to individuals that are calm and collected under pressure, avoiding emotional extremes to keep things in perspective. People who turn an obstacle into a positive. However, stoicism is more than just a philosophic term, but a call to action that can influence how we interact with the world around us. It allows us to apply principles that guide our decision making in times of adversity.
Modern-day philosopher, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, defines a Stoic as someone who “transforms fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation and desire into undertaking.”
Pillars of Stoicism
Dichotomy of Control: Historically, Stoics believed that everything around them worked together in a cause-effect relationship. They believed that while we don’t always have control over the things around us, we do have control on how we react to them. Example: We don’t have control of the patient before they enter the emergency department, their prior health management, the way EMS transported the patient, or the individual execution of our ER staff during a resuscitation in that exact moment.But we do have control over how we react to their condition upon arrival, interact with the EMS and ER staff during the resuscitation, and the decisions we make to actively treat this patient.
Cardinal Virtues: Instead of imagining the “perfect” world, a stoic views the world as it is, while pursuing self-improvement through the practice of the four virtues.
- Practical Wisdom: differentiating good from bad. Ability to navigate complex situations in a logical, calm, and informed manner.
- Justice: knowing what the right thing to do is. Treating others with fairness even when they have done wrong.
- Courage: standing up, physically and morally, for what you believe is true. Approaching daily circumstances with clarity and integrity.
- Temperance: personifying self-restraint and moderation in all aspects of life.
Example: Calling for a consult on a patient, however the consulting physician appears angry and disinterested in helping you or the patient. This is a difficult situation but channeling the virtues above can be helpful. We have no idea what situation others just walked out of when we interact with them. If they are treating you poorly, you don’t need to treat them the same way, can be silent, listen and maintain stoicism. Understand that you are doing the best thing for the patient, being calm and firm in your medical discretion for this necessary consult. Temperance can be difficult but can help diffuse a negative situation.
So what do we do with this info?
- Write: sit down and take time to process what is going on around you. Write down what you have control over and what you don’t. Write down a stoic quote that speaks to you, and then WHY it speaks to you.
- Reflect: The next time you are worried about something, take a moment to reflect on if you have control over what you are worried about. Are you worried it’s going to rain and ruin your event outside? If so, perhaps remembering that you have no control over whether it rains or not will help you to realize that worrying about it does nothing but hurt you and won’t change anything.
Only those who have internally cultivated virtue and self control can influence others and create change. By applying dichotomy of control and the cardinal virtues to our daily practice, hopefully they will lead us to be happier, healthier, and subsequently impact the world for the better.
Listen in as these topics are discussed in more depth.
Extra Stoicism Resources:
Great Blog Posts: