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From Vol. 1, Issue 10, October 2019

Everyday changes: Nothing happens quickly


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If you go to the gym and ask your coach for quick-wins or a toolbox for rapid change - without too much effort please - what is she likely to say? 

First she could tell you to go to a plastic surgeon, that’s a real quick win, probably the quickest way to change your physical outlook. And then, joke aside, she certainly would give you some exercice and advise you to train regularly. She would also probably tell you that you don’t get fit in a week, it’s going to take some effort. Practice and time. 

When my partner became depressed, his doctor told him that he was in it for two years. Rather than depressing him further, it relieved him. “Whenever I felt down”, he told me, “I thought to myself, it’s like going to the gym. Hard times are like training sessions. When you’re in it, you’re suffering. But you know that something comes out of it. That’s just how your body becomes fit again - and your mind too.” Maybe we should acknowledge that change takes time. 

My job here in France is to help corporations and teams find purpose through philosophical enquiry and debate. Many of the companies I work with are going through tough times. Their business models, their purpose, and the way people work together to fulfill it are in complete transformation. And although all of the people I work with appreciate philosophy - they feel it is important to take time to think about why they do what they do - at some point in the conversation the question unmistakably comes: “You know we’re in a business world here, we need to change fast and preferably without any pain. What kind of quick-wins can we hope for after a philosophical workshop ? Is there a toolbox you can give us ?” 

So I feel like giving them Epictetus’words: 

The true man is revealed in difficult times. So when trouble comes, think of yourself as a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck. For what purpose? To turn you into Olympic-Class material. But this is going to take some time to accomplish. From my perspective, no one’s difficulties ever gave him a better test than yours, if you are prepared to make use of them the way a wrestler makes use of an opponent in peak conditions. 

Epictetus, Discourses, Book 1.24 

Change takes time, but more than that, change takes exercise. Repetition. One philosophical workshop might spark the will to change, help you identify one small thing you want to change, or help you realize how hard it is to change. But it is not because we know we would be better off not getting angry, being kind and helpful that we necessarily become like that. It is not because some corporate communications document explains that we need to be agile, cooperative, and trust each other (all buzzwords in French companies…), that we become it. 

We need to think about it: why we should be that, what it means to be that, what is difficult about being that. And then, if we are persuaded that it is a good thing, we need to practice. We’re the only ones who can do it for ourselves. But if you’re reading THE STOIC magazine, you probably already know that. 

Flora Bernard is the co-founder of the Paris-based philosophy agency, Thae, in 2013. Flora now works to help organizations give meaning to what they do.