Stoicism with a Big “S”

January 20, 2020 Barry F. Polansky, DMD

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 itand 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.  

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About Author

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Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Dr. Polansky has delivered comprehensive cosmetic dentistry, restorative dentistry, and implant dentistry for more than 35 years. He was born in the Bronx, New York in January 1948. The doctor graduated from Queens College in 1969 and received his DMD degree in 1973 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Following graduation, Dr. Polansky spent two years in the US Army Dental Corps, stationed at Fort. Dix, New Jersey. In 1975, Dr. Polansky entered private practice in Medford Lakes. Three years later, he built his second practice in the town in which he now lives, Cherry Hill. Dr. Polansky wrote his first article for Dental Economics in 1995 – it was the cover article. Since that time Dr. Polansky has earned a reputation as one of dentistry's best authors and dental philosophers. He has written for many industry publications, including Dental Economics, Dentistry Today, Dental Practice and Finance, and Independent Dentistry (a UK publication).