Stoicism

tantrumUpon arriving home last night I expressed my absolute frustration to the husband about some random work orientated things. Expressed it clearly and precisely in words of one syllable. And I might have declared that I was so irked that I felt like acting like a child by throwing myself on the floor, having a stiff bodied tantrum, and a jolly good scream and shout.

(I’d had a VERY bad day at work.)

The obstacles we face in life sometimes make us emotional. The only way to overcome them is to keep those emotions in check. If we can “keep calm and carry on” then everything will be ok, right?

The ancient Stoics had a word for this state: apatheia.

Wiki describes it as follows: Apatheia (Greek: ἀπάθεια; from a- “without” and pathos “suffering” or “passion”) in Stoic philosophy refers to a state of mind where one is not disturbed by the passions. It is best translated by the word equanimity rather than indifference. The word apatheia has a quite different meaning to the modern English apathy, which has a negative connotation. According to the Stoics, apatheia was the quality that characterized the Sage.

Whereas Aristotle had claimed that virtue was to be found in the golden mean between excess and deficiency of emotion (metriopatheia), the Stoics sought freedom from all passions (apatheia). It meant eradicating the tendency to react emotionally or egotistically to external events – the things we cannot control. For the Stoics, it was the optimum rational response to the world, for we cannot control things that are caused by the will of others or by Nature; we can only control our own will.

(Every day is a school day, huh?)

The Stoics used contempt to lay things bare and “strip away the legend that encrusts them.”

Roasted meat is a dead animal. Vintage wine is old, fermented grapes. You get the idea?

We can do this for anything that stands in our way, seeing things as they truly, actually are, not as we’ve made them in our minds.

“Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.” — Viktor Frankl

We choose how we look at things.

What we must do is to limit and expand our perspective based on whatever will keep us calmest and most ready for the task at hand.

“The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close up.” — Chuck Palahniuk

It doesn’t matter whether this is the worst time to be alive or the best, whether you’re in a good job market or a bad one. What matters right now is right now. Focus on the moment, on what you can control right now. Not what may or may not be ahead.

The reality is every situation, no matter how negative, provides us with a positive, exposed benefit we can act on, if only we look for it.

Remember: Every side has a flip side. The trick is seeing through the negative, past its underside, and to its corollary: the positive bits.

Another way of looking at it: Does getting upset provide you with more options?

Sometimes it does. And in this instance? No, not really.

(FYI – I didn’t throw myself on the floor and have a tantrum. I had a beer, chatted to the husband and played cards instead. Best choice.)

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