One challenge as a parent is how to talk to your kids about handling setbacks. My two oldest kids and I have been reading about the ancient Greek stoic philosophers. As it turns out, these guys really know how to deal with hard things in life. We particularly love the story of Zeno who is considered the father of stoic philosophy.
Who is Zeno?
Zeno was from a rich family of sea merchants. One day on the Mediterranean late in the 4th century BC, Zeno set sail with a cargo full of Tyrian purple dye. This dye was prized by the wealthy and royal clothes were colored with it. The rare dye was painstakingly extracted from the blood of sea snails and dried in the sun. But there was a wreck. The ship sank and the valuable cargo was lost. This wasn’t just a setback, Zeno lost everything. He went from terribly wealthy to poor in just one day.
Ask The Oracle!
Zeno didn’t know what to do. He didn’t have a back up plan. So he did what many people did in Ancient Athens when they needed guidance. He went to an oracle. The oracle told him: “To live your best life you should have a conversation with the dead.” Zeno was like, what’s that supposed to mean!? Later he wandered into an Athens bookstore and perhaps it struck him there. Books written by those who went before us is a great way to hear from the dead.
Zeno’s Lightbulb Moment
The bookseller happened to be reading the teaching of Socrates. Zeno listened intently. His brain came alive and had a lightbulb moment; he had discovered his calling in life. Zeno was going to be a philosopher! In fact, he became the founder of Stoicism, a school that continued unbroken to the time of Marcus Aurelius and continues to influence thinking in modern times.
Zeno made a choice after a tragic loss. But he never would have had he not been forced in another direction by a tragedy. He later said, “I made a prosperous voyage when I suffered a shipwreck.”
What Can We Learn From Zeno’s Reaction To This Tragedy?
Ask your kids what they think about the story of Zeno. Here are some questions you can choose from, along with suggestions on how they can apply his story to their own lives:
- What did Zeno lose when his ship sank? How did he react to this loss?
- Application: Think about something you value a lot, such as a toy or something given to you. What would you do if you lost it? Can you find a way to be happy even without it? Have the kids write down or draw a picture of something they can still value and be grateful for, even if they lost their most cherished possession. Examples can include their family, friends, hobbies, skills, or qualities such as kindness, creativity, or courage.
- How did Zeno find strength after losing everything? What did he focus on to rebuild his life?
- Application: Think about a time when you faced a difficult situation. What helped you get through it? Can you focus on your strengths and virtues to overcome challenges?
- What is the Stoic philosophy, and how did Zeno use it to cope with his loss? To learn a little more about Stoic philosophy, read
- Application: Learn more about Stoicism and its teachings. Can you find ways to apply some of these ideas to your own life, such as by focusing on gratitude or practicing mindfulness?
- What lesson can we learn from Zeno’s story about the value of material possessions?
- Application: Consider the things you own and the things you want to own. Are they truly necessary for your happiness? Can you find joy in simpler things, such as spending time with loved ones or enjoying nature?
- How can Zeno’s story inspire us to be more resilient and optimistic in the face of adversity?
- Application: Think about a time when you faced a setback or a disappointment. How can you use this experience as a lesson and a reminder to keep going and never give up?
Further Learning About The Stoics
For further discussion with kids about Stoic philosophy, be sure to check out Donald J. Robinson’s article “Stoicism For Children”. For teenagers, we have really enjoyed reading Lives Of The Stoics by Ryan Holiday. And finally, for more activities and discussions on topics in philosophy take a look at my book 20 Fun Lessons In Philosophy