Counselling and coaching are both wonderful arts that help us to understand and change ourselves. Prior to working in these fields I taught philosophy at tertiary level, and I bring that into my work. It is through philosophy that we cultivate insight, clarity, meaning, and value. Of course many people see philosophy through the stereotype of the otherworldly intellectual. Today I give expression to what philosophy is in my practice of it, and why for thousands of years it has guided people through thick and thin.
These days philosophy is mostly an academic discipline. People sit around thinking, reading, and debating. Such things are wonderful in the context of a fuller life, but there is more to life than talk and leisure. Sometimes it is downright hard, and either way the life of passivity is second-rate to the life of creation and giving, of making something good out of the resource that is you. This is why I came to philosophy, to face life and grow. Philosophy at its best is so much more.
The ancient Greeks who invented Western philosophy reflected in order to live well. It was part of an active life. There are two aspects to this: philosophical reflection must be rooted in the realities of life, and it must change how we live.
So the ancient philosophers were concerned with truth, but equally with the effect of speaking the truth. This is why Socrates is the paradigm philosopher, and why his conversation looked so different to modern academics. He wanted people to seriously examine their lives. He wanted us to strive for greater truthfulness, and goodness, and beauty, in our way of being. For him philosophy should lead to an increase in meaning, value, virtue, flourishing. If it does not, then it does not matter how logical and clever it is. People imagine that Socrates was concerned with our becoming more logical. Read the dialogues and you will see this is not really so. Reason was merely a tool in the service of those other virtues and values, and it is today.
Socrates confronted people with the need to examine their lives. He was executed for this. Real philosophy is dangerous. This is why every totalitarian regime seeks to stifle it, for it makes us more free. It is dangerous to individuals also, for it will not accept excuses - it challenges us.
The role of philosophy in my work is Socratic. I help you to take stock of your life, and to clarify your perspective, mindset, and values. We seek a better vision of what your life can be. And we set about actively creating that. Shaping your mind and heart, your emotions and actions, and the structure of your life, to make that vision a reality. This is the adventure of philosophy at its best.
The true measure of philosophy is this: does it lead us to live better? If it does not then it has failed (or perhaps we have failed to answer the call). Come at it with the passion and joy that it invites, and philosophy will draw you along and upwards. For it is about freeing the mind and heart, drawing out what is best and most beautiful and good in each of us, and thereby changing the whole of our life.
Some books of philosophy to start with:
I recommend Plato's The Apology and the Symposium, both of which feature Socrates in dialogue.
One of my favourite philosophers alive today is Raimond Gaita, and I recommend his memoir Romulus, My Father, which shows the spirit behind philosophy, in the context of his challenging childhood in 1950s rural Victoria.
One of my favourite books of lived philosophy is Eric Greiten's Resilience: Hard Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life.
James Stockdale was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for seven and a half years and drew on philosophy to survive the repeated torture sessions and to lead his fellow prisoners. You can read his story here.