Dentistry can be emotionally taxing, and Stoicism helped me to get through some tough times. I am not referring to being a small “s” stoic. In truth, being a stoic can be harmful to a dentist’s emotional health because that implies suppressing feelings. I’m referring to capital “S” Stoicism…a practical philosophy which has as its goals freedom, happiness, and tranquility. And that is how I became fascinated with it.
The first person I ever heard speak about “philosophy” in dentistry was L.D. Pankey. He used language I hardly understood. It was foreign to me. I studied his philosophy and the philosophy of Aristotle. The application was difficult. Mounted models in centric relation is one thing…but “virtues?” What was Pankey trying to get across?
It was years later that I learned about the Stoics who were not theoreticians or academics, but rather real down-to-earth working people who considered Stoicism a new school of Greek philosophy that was practical. They lived it rather than studied it, and they were mostly happy emotionally resilient people.
Their virtues included justice, fairness, and kindness to others. Applying these virtues takes work. It takes self-awareness to avoid making value judgments and creating narratives about situations and people that lead to stress.
Hearing L.D. Pankey speak of “virtues” sounded old fashioned to me, but I knew there was more to him than mounting models. The essence of his message was how to achieve happiness, tranquility, and virtue…something I was sorely missing when I first went to Key Biscayne. By practicing the Stoic virtues of justice, fairness and kindness to others, I have found happiness. I have found that a virtuous life of inner coherence and outer harmony relieves confusion about life and practice.