Friday, November 6, 2015

Stoic Week #5

Friday, November 6, 2015

Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I might meet with people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious and unsocial. All this has afflicted them through their ignorance of true good and evil. But I have seen that the nature of good is what is right, and the nature of evil what is wrong; and I have reflected that the nature of the offender himself is akin to my own - not a kinship of blood or seed, but a sharing in the same mind, the same fragment of divinity. Therefore I cannot be harmed by any of them, as none will infect me with their wrong. Not can I be angry with my fellow human being or hate him. We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work in opposition to one another is against nature: and anger or rejection is opposition. (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.1)

We control our mental life. That is, our responses to obnoxious people depend on ourselves. Insufferable people don’t make us feel peeved, dismayed, put out, despairing of the human animal. We make ourselves feel upset. People are not unbearable, they don’t act in unbearable ways. We choose to let their behavior get to us. We choose to say to ourselves, “I can’t his face. I can’t stand his foul opinions.”  We choose to dismiss their behavior with a shrug, “So it goes. He thinks he’s right. I won’t let him make me angry or implicate me in his attitude. And who am I to educate him that his acting is such a way will damage his own self-interest in the long run? He’ll learn on his own.”

Marcus is talking about negative visualization. Without ruminating, we had better rehearse the worst case scenarios. The border is going to have a long wait. The border guard will be an officious dolt. The guard will pull us over for a long inspection. They guards will look us will that empty bland expression that they think is professional but normal people think is disturbing.

Feel the dismay up to a point. Then back off. Dispute fear. Will these things really happen? What is the probability even one will happen, much less two or three? There’s no reason to think the magnitude of such things happening is high either. They pull us over, we lose time, we feel upset if we allow ourselves to. Are these things really horrible? No, obviously not. So be grateful for whatever happens. If there are no waits, sail through and be thankful. If there are long waits, welcome it as a chance to practice stoic self-control.

Seneca says take a couple days a week to expose yourself to negative emotion so you inoculate yourself and you can act despite those emotions

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