The Great Courses Pilot: Storytelling and the human condition

Introducing Wondrium, a giveaway, lessons from a philosopher king, and more!

Gracious readers,

This week, we’ll explore:

  • The Great Courses Pilot: Storytelling and the human condition

  • Introducing Wondrium—and a giveaway!

  • Winners of Dignity and Virtue Politics

  • Lessons from a philosopher king—an invitation

  • Greek mythology in ten minutes—free mini course!

Storytelling and the human condition: My rendezvous with the Great Courses

Last week, I few to Chantilly Virginia to visit The Teaching Company’s Great Courses HQ.

I was contacted a number of months ago my one of their talent recruiters about about teaching for them—which was an absolute dream come true. I’ve been listening to and nourishing my mind with Great Courses my entire life.

To be able to create a course myself? I was thrilled for the invitation.

I put together four titles and course descriptions, and through audience feedback, TGC hired me to record a pilot for my course idea called Storytelling and the Human Condition.

I proposed looking at great stories across culture, time, and place to mine insights into the meaning of life and what it means to be human. Below is an excerpt of my lecture, which should be released within the next few months. I’ll be sure to share it with you here!


Without further ado, an excerpt from my pilot lecture:

Storytelling—or re-framing how we recount memories of our past and present experiences—can help us redeem traumas and failures in our past. Stories also help broaden our horizons by helping us put our experiences into the greater context of our lives and the world around us.

Our greatest weaknesses can, through storytelling, be transformed into our greatest strengths.

This has always been the case. Stories are powerful.

In this lecture, we’re first going to explore how the way in which we tell ourselves stories affects the way that we view, act, and engage with the world around us. We’ll do this through exploring a story that philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre tells us in his famous work, After Virtue.

Second, we’re going to explore a famous example of storytelling—early Renaissance writer Boccaccio’s Decameron—and examine how storytelling can help us overcome and transcend tremendous adversity in our lives, such as a devastating plague.

Third, we’ll unpack some aspects of what makes for great storytelling.

Finally, further reflecting on our opening story of my accident as a child, we’ll discover the power of stories to emphasize our agency as human beings, to redeem our traumas, and to turn our setbacks into strengths.

There’s a famous work called After Virtue—one of the most important works of moral philosophy in the 20th century—by philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. A modern Aristotelian, MacIntyre makes the case for virtue ethics—or right conduct grounded in morality instead of immorality, virtue instead of vice—as necessary for the life well-lived.

In After Virtue, MacIntyre tells a story.

Imaging you’re waiting for your bus, and a man comes up to you, out of the blue, and says, 'The name of the common wild duck is Histrionicus histrionicus histrionicus.'

You are puzzled. You understand literally what he is saying to you. But what does it mean? And how should you respond?

MacIntyre offers three contextual explanations for the man’s abrupt and seemingly out of nowhere outburst.

First, perhaps he is a librarian, and he mistook you for the person who approached him yesterday and said 'Do you by any chance know the Latin name of the common wild duck?'

Second, perhaps he is mentally ill or had just come from a therapy session where his therapist told him to be more outgoing and speak with strangers.

Third, perhaps this person is a Soviet spy, and is waiting at the bus stop to rendezvous with his contact, and the phrase he uttered was the code word?

Depending on which backstory to the encounter you accept, your actions will differ. If you believe the man is a spy, you might report him or harm him to prevent him from hurting others. But if the man is mentally ill or a librarian, it would be a horrible thing if you reported or harmed an innocent person.

MacIntyre’s point is that human beings are storytelling animals. Life is irreducibly narrative in character. The stories we tall ourselves matter deeply to how we engage in the world around us.

MacIntyre writes, “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’”

Storytelling is a universal human experience. People across time and place have understood themselves and the world around them through stories.

This is because we are perpetually interested in questions related to the human condition: What does it mean to be human? Why are we here? What is the best way to live?

Studying stories across medium, across history, and across culture allows us insight into how people have answered these questions for themselves—and help us better able to understand who we are.

We are confronted with the undeniable reality that despite difference in time, language, or cultural that separate us, human nature—and the human condition—does not change. But how we respond to our particular circumstances in life CAN and DOES change.

What do you think?

Is this a course you would listen to? Have you ever had course ideas for The Teaching Company?

I have LOTS of ideas both for TGC content, and for areas for us to explore together in this community.

I’d love to hear from you.

Send me YOUR ideas directly at

Introducing Wondrium—and a giveaway!

Some exciting news: The Great Courses is re-branding to WONDRIUM!

A lovely and whimsical moniker to mark a new era of reaching a new generation of lifelong learners and the life of the mind.

To celebrate, they’re offering oodles of new content on their streaming service, The Great Courses Plus (now called “Wondrium”).

I’d like to give away a ONE YEAR subscription to Wondrium to give you a chance to experience and enjoy their new offerings and platform.

To enter, send me a note with the subject line WONDRIUM to

I’ll select a winner by next week!

Lessons from a philosopher king

Register here!

The Greek philosopher Plato famously suggested that the best political regime would be ruled by a ruler who loved wisdom, because only those who loved wisdom could withstand the corrupting nature of power.

Marcus Aurelius, rare among leaders in history, sought to follow this Platonic ideal of leading with wisdom and integrity.

A follower of the philosophy of Stoicism, Marcus Aurelius gives modern readers insight into his passion for wisdom and virtue through his private journal, known today as his “Meditations."

What can our leaders and modern readers alike learn from Marcus Aurelius’ life and legacy?

What are the salient insights from his personal pursuit of virtue and intellectual practices that can help us lead better, more fulfilled lives today?

Civic Renaissance is thrilled to partner with Classical wisdom to bring you a conversation on these ideas.

On June 15th at 5pm Eastern, join a conversation with Donald Robertson, author of “How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius” published by St Martin’s Press; Anya Leonard, founder and CEO of Classical Wisdom; and Alexandra Hudson, founder and curator of Civic Renaissance, to explore these ideas and more.

Register and find more information here!

Greek mythology in ten minutes—CR’s first free mini course!

I’m thrilled to announce CR’s first course, Greek Mythology in Ten Minutes!

I’ve launched the Civic Renaissance Academy on the online learning platform Teachable. My plan is for this to be the first of a few mini-courses that can, in time, lead to longer, in-depth courses through which we can learn together. (Thanks to those who wrote to me about the subject areas you’re interested in exploring together!)

I thought we’d start with this course, an introduction to the basics of Greek mythology, because these stories are really the foundation of the Great Conversation we’ve been exploring together in recent weeks—the dialogue between the great minds of the past who have helped shape our world. This course should not take you more than 30 minutes to complete.

It includes:

  • One just-over-ten-minute lecture

  • A quiz

  • A short reading

I hope you decide to take this free course, and that you come away with an understanding of why these stories still matter for us today. I hope this course does what all good courses do—whet your appetite to keep learning!

Here’s an overview of what the course covers:

  • First we explore what, exactly, myth is.

  • Second, we explain why we should study Greek myth today.

  • Third, we cover some of the major stories and characters foundational to Greek mythology.

  • Finally, we reflect on what these stories reveal about the moral and cultural framework of the ancient Greeks, and discuss what lessons they offer us today.

Register for FREE here

Thank you for being part of the Civic Renaissance Community! I’m so grateful that you’re here.