As many as 35% of Cypriots are dissatisfied with their lives. 19% are extremely dissatisfied with the island’s economy. But 80% say nothing will change. In Paphos, ALIX NORMAN discovers a modern-day Agora that’s sparking transformation

Did you know the founder of Stoicism was born in Cyprus?

It’s apt: 23 centuries after his birth, Zeno’s Stoic school of thought remains a seductive philosophy – especially on this island!

Suffering from economic hardship? Stoicism tells us material possessions are unimportant; true wealth lies in our virtues, not our bank accounts.

Struggling with a low wage? This school of thought encourages us to redirect ourselves towards pursuits within our control.

Unable to afford a home? We’re reminded that contentment comes not from external acquisitions but from internal peace and resilience.

“Of course, critics argue that stoicism leaves little room for emotion,” says Christos Kyliakoudis. “The stoic ideal of being indifferent to pain, loss and external pleasures, doesn’t really allow for our natural human responses to life’s challenges and joys. And, as Mediterraneans, we’re quite an emotionally expressive people!

“Perhaps,” he adds, “we need to consider other schools of thought as well?”

At Philosophy Shots, this is exactly what Christos is doing. The Managing Director of Bazaraki, he and co-founder Eleni Baltatzi (a corporate facilitator) preside over a twice-monthly gathering that uses everything from existentialism to utilitarianism to discuss and debate the issues that plague us today.

Taking place at Ibrahim’s Khan in Paphos, this is an open forum: everyone is welcome. Participants need not be well-versed in philosophy. The only thing they need is a willingness to explore the full spectrum of human experience and find practical wisdom for everyday challenges.

In essence, it’s Cyprus’ very own, modern-day ‘Agora’!

“The original Agora of ancient Greece was where philosophy lived and breathed,” explains Christos. “In this public space, dialogue and critical thinking were nurtured; contemplation and debate encouraged. In a way,” he adds, “it was the social media of its day; a window into the hearts and minds of others.

“Unfortunately, current social media showcases the worst aspects of the Agora: it gives us freedom of speech without accountability; allows us to air opinions but hide behind anonymity. At Philosophy Shots, we’re getting back to the original meaning of the Greek Agora: sharing our perspectives without judgement…”

Christos is a great believer in Socrates’ maxim: ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’

“The worst thing we could do is apathetically accept what we’re told, believe what we’re asked to believe. And that can be a problem in Cyprus, where we’ve been trained not to question.

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A Philosophy Shots meeting

“Our educational system conditions children to learn ‘the right answer’ by rote. Our church teaches us that there are predetermined rules we must follow to remain exempt from sin. And even our parents can be guilty of stifling our true passions: perhaps they told us we had to be a doctor or a lawyer when we really wanted to be an artist or a musician!

Over the years, we’ve been conditioned to blindly accept certain ways of thinking. Some of these paradigms may be useful – in the west, we grew up with the idea of democracy, of voting for our government. And that’s probably a good thing.

“But even good things may need a little revision now and then; how and when we vote, and who we vote for could always stand a little examination! And philosophy, no matter which school of thought, teaches us to question such givens; question what we’re told; question everything!

“And then – and this is just as important – it teaches us to act!”

Action is a product of our thoughts and beliefs, Christos explains. If we think we’re helpless, for example, then that’s how we act…

“Look at the island’s years under foreign rule. We were accustomed to accepting authority; we learnt that yes men had a better life. But now, we need to ask ourselves: has Cyprus adopted a mindset of helplessness? Or are we learning from past mistakes?”

According to the most recent round of the European Social Survey, roughly 35 per cent of Cypriots are dissatisfied with their lives. Just eight per cent are ‘extremely satisfied’ (which, interestingly, works out to about 90,000 people – close on the number employed in the public sector!)

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Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, was born in Cyprus

Also, 19 per cent of us are extremely dissatisfied with the state of our economy, which puts us in the top three in Europe for this category. Ans, 17 per cent (the second highest number on the continent) believe the state of education in Cyprus is ‘extremely bad’. And yet over 80 per cent of Cypriots don’t believe the government changes its policies in response to public opinion.

Somehow, Cyprus is actually happier than the EU average! In the most recent survey, the island scored a 7.2 out of 10 on the wellbeing index – a rise of 0.4 over the previous survey.

“Going back to Zeno, I think Cypriots are simply better at stoicism than other nations,” says Christos. “We have to be stoic simply to exist! Start a real estate transaction today, and you’ll be lucky if it’s done within the year. Disagree with the tax authorities, and you’re looking at five years and 200 emails before there’s any sort of resolution.”

Fortunately, there are benefits to this mindset.

“Simply accepting what life throws at you can lead to a simpler life; to inner contentment; to resilience,” Christos admits. “But it can also cause us to stagnate; it can hinder societal progress; and lead to a sense of complacency in which injustices or inefficiencies are tolerated simply because they are part of the current state of affairs…”

With Philosophy Shots, Christos and Eleni are putting thought into action, gathering those who want to address the pressing issues of the day; putting thoughts into words and spreading the message.

“Recently we talked about AI, about freedom versus society, and law versus ethical dilemmas. We debated the romantic ideal of relationships and marriage, of friendships. It’s just like Socrates’ Agora: a synthesis of ideas from people of every age.”

Nothing is off-topic. “Philosophy covers everything,” Christos concludes. “And I think Cyprus could use a bit more open-minded philosophical discussion,” he concludes. “Followed by, perhaps, a little more action…”

Philosophy Shots’ next meetings take place on March 11 and March 25 at Ibrahim’s Khan in Paphos. Discussions are primarily in English. For more information, visit the Facebook page ‘Philosophy shots’