Does what 'stands in your way become the way?'

Today is November 13 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “does what stands in your way become the way?” When translating dreams into reality, those who navigate the chaos often practice a guiding principle found within a centuries old philosophy known as Stoicism in that what stands in their way often becomes the way.


As Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote “Our actions may be impeded but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” By focusing our attention on that which impedes our progress, we then learn the path forward.

In their 2020 book Lives of the Stoics: The Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius, authors Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman stressed the role philosophy in general, and Stoicism specifically, can play in our modern lives and wrote:

“The Stoic philosophy, the one that we need today more than ever, was a philosophy not of ephemeral ideas but of action. its four virtues are simple and straight forward: Courage. Temperance, Justice, Wisdom. What the Stoics were after, what we remain interested still today, were lights to illuminate the path in life. They wanted to know, as we want to know, how to find tranquility, purpose, self-control, and happiness. This journey, whether it begins in ancient Greece or modern America, is timeless. It is essential. It is difficult. Which is why we ask, as the Stoics asked, ‘Who can help me? What is right? Where is true north?

One group of people who has practiced “the obstacle in the way becomes the way” approach to navigating the chaos are those who stutter. According to The Stuttering Foundation “this misunderstood disability affects over three million Americans. And despite decades of research, both basic and clinical, the causes are still largely unknown.” To overcome their obstacle, those who stutter have had to spend a great deal of time, effort, and work. In short, ‘what stands in the way (stuttering) becomes the way (learning how to overcome the stutter). Famous people throughout history have had to use this strategy as they looked for ways to navigate the chaos.

For example, King George VI was a symbol of courage and fortitude for the British people. When he was a Prince, George served in the military and was later crowned king before the outbreak of World War II. He struggled to overcome the severe stammer that had stayed with him since childhood. His story is told in the award-winning movie The King's Speech, a 2010 British historical drama film directed by Tom Hooper and written by David Seidler. Colin Firth plays the future King George VI who, to cope with a stammer, sees Lionel Logue, an Australian speech and language therapist played by Geoffrey Rush. The men become friends as they work together, and after his brother abdicates the throne, the new king relies on Logue to help him make his first wartime radio broadcast upon Britain's declaration of war on Germany in 1939.

Seidler read about George VI's life after learning to manage a stuttering condition he developed during his own youth. He started writing about the relationship between the therapist and his royal patient as early as the 1980s, but at the request of the King's widow, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, postponed work until her death in 2002. He later rewrote his screenplay for the stage to focus on the essential relationship between the two protagonists. Nine weeks before filming began, Logue's notebooks were discovered and quotations from them were incorporated into the script.

Actor Emily Blunt had to overcome stuttering and said in an interview, “I did have a bad stuttering problem as a child. I’d try to push the words out, but it was frustrating. My parents took me to speech coaches and relaxation coaches. It didn’t work. Then one of my teachers at school had a brilliant idea and said, ‘Why don’t you speak in an accent in our school play?’ I distanced myself from me through this character, and it was so freeing that my stuttering stopped when I was onstage. It was really a miracle.”

As author Randy Pausch noted “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” Those who stutter may not understand how or why they stutter, but they certainly recognize the Stoic philosophy of “what stands in the way becomes the way.” Do you?