Was Your Event Planned by an Epicurean or a Stoic?

Was Your Event Planned by an Epicurean or a Stoic?

By David Fletcher (New York Chapter)

At a recent wedding, the bride and groom required each table to sing a song before being called to the buffet. There was some confusion, and possibly grousing… but guests had a better time having accomplished something. It is okay if your event requires that guests “do more than chew….” .

Guests prefer to be actively engaged, even if it requires some effort on their part.

Event planners are usually swamped with little questions – what time does the bus leave? do we have enough chairs?

Perhaps because the ancient Greeks lacked the ability to check email every 10 seconds, they had more time to ponder philosophy.

The bigger, more perplexing philosophic questions better and more frequently confronted by our distant forbears are:

Why? Why are we getting people together? What are we trying to accomplish? What will be different after the event? What is our philosophy and how do we express our abiding principles in our events?

Epicureanism is a system of philosophy founded around 307 BC. Epicurus believed that pleasure is the greatest good. But the way to attain pleasure was to live modestly and to gain knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of one’s desires. This led one to attain a state of tranquility and freedom from fear, as well as absence of bodily pain). The combination of these two states is supposed to constitute happiness in its highest form. Although Epicureanism is a form of hedonism, insofar as it declares pleasure as the sole intrinsic good, its conception of absence of pain as the greatest pleasure and its advocacy of a simple life make it different from “hedonism” as it is commonly understood.

Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in the early 3rd century BC. The Stoics taught that destructive emotions resulted from errors in judgment, and that a sage, or person of “moral and intellectual perfection,” would not suffer such emotions. Stoics presented their philosophy as a way of life, and they thought that the best indication of an individual’s philosophy was not what a person said but how he behaved.

Your event will be more successful if you embrace one or the other of these schools of thought. In the alternative, you can use the more useful elements of both. Be careful of confusing a tactic with a philosophy.

One conceptual error is the tendency to impose a Stoic element on an Epicurean event for no purpose.

Overheard in line at MacDonald’s “ I’d like a big mac, large fries and a diet coke….” A diet coke?

This is Stoicism as window dressing.

Just after the stock market, economy crash of 2008, a few companies cancelled the entertainment for their holiday party, paid in full, had the party anyway but cancelled entertainment presumably to appear more stoic.

Your event should be Epicurean or Stoic. It should not combine the worse elements of both.

Consider the example of a company party where the planners make it a point to hold off on raffling the big prizes until the last ten minutes of the event, and induce employees into staying until the very very end of the party… long after they were enjoying the event. The Epicurean elements of the event – great music, raw bar, nice decor were marred by introducing misunderstood and ill advised Stoic elements.

Another anecdote: A three hour networking event, where the planners only wanted live music for the first hour, followed by two hours of recorded music, in other words a solo d.j. Once the d.j. started, guests started complaining about the volume and choice of material. Most guests left long before the conclusion of the event.

Canned music offends the Epicurean sensibility for a few reasons.

Fine cuisine, often referred to as Epicurean, usually includes a serving of sorbet between courses to cleans the palate. Similarly , a live musical performance, has a few moments of silence between songs. Canned music has no spaces between songs. Silence between songs, just like the space between the notes, or the sorbet between courses, is what renders taste and meaning to the song.

The value of a cup is not the porcelain, but the space created for the drink.

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