We might have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving but it would be fair to say that things haven’t exactly gone to plan over the last couple of years. We have all been forced to make difficult decisions or just trust that we’ll come through a difficult time okay. We have been tested again and again. Sometimes we ace these tests and sometimes we wish we could ask for re-take. These tests have taken many different forms but I have recently found it helpful to treat each as a test of character. 

I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to read The Odyssey to our students last quarter. As our student put Odysseus’ struggles into perspective, I ended up falling down a philosophical rabbit hole that introduced me to the idea of the Stoic Challenge.

Stoicism is a school of philosophy founded in Ancient Greece. Stoics discovered that accepting life as tests of character can change how we respond to them. This idea has been updated in light of modern psychological techniques such as ‘reframing’ by William B. Irvine in his book ‘The Stoic Challenge: A Philosopher’s Guide to Becoming Tougher, Calmer, and More Resilient.’

The basic idea is that when you are struggling, it is your character that is being tested. Whether you pass the test depends less on the outcome and more on how you struggled through it – which is great when outcomes are beyond our control. 

As for any test you need criteria to assess how well you did. I have found our Elementary School Compassionate Agreement very useful – simply because I see it every Friday when I put our Faculty Blog together. As I reflect on a week’s worth of tests this is what I use to assess myself:

We all know we are doing our best…. even when we are not at our best!

Check in. How am I? What do I need? How are they? What do they need from me?

Ask for help and be helpful.

Be present and patient. Take time to fully understand others and allow time for others to understand you. Pausing, Paraphrasing and Posing Questions promotes our common understanding.

Share your ideas and be open to the ideas of others. Once shared, they become our ideas and anything could happen!

Notwithstanding the fact that I would rather not have to sit so many tests, assessing myself is almost always a positive way to finish the week. And if I have failed a few tests at least I know what I need to work on next week.

It is a stretch to say that I am grateful for all of my tests but I am very grateful that I get to work through many of mine with such clever and compassionate people.

Irvine, William Braxton. The Stoic Challenge: A Philosopher’s Guide to Becoming Tougher, Calmer, and More Resilient. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2021.