Stoicism for a Better Life – Weekly exercise (February 26)

From: Stoicism for a Better Life

Hello there,

For this week's exercise, let us find inspiration in Marcus Aurelius' Meditations IX 42: 

"When you are offended with any man's shameless conduct, immediately ask yourself 'Is it possible, then, that shameless men should not be in the world?'. It is not possible. Do not, then, require what is impossible… Let the same considerations be present to your mind in the case of the knave and the faithless man, and of every man who does wrong in any way. For at the same time that you remind yourself that it is impossible that such men should not exist, you will become more kindly disposed toward everyone individually. It is also useful to perceive, as soon as the occasion arises, what virtue nature has given to man to oppose to every wrongful act. For as an antidote against the stupid man, she has given mildness, and against another kind of man some other power."

I have not owned cable television in almost a decade. But when I end up somewhere with cable TV access and flip on the boob-tube, I find nothing but reality TV shows. Even on channels  (supposedly)  dedicated to learning, we find series after series of reality TV shows,  built around the premise of most characters being humiliated, rejected, eliminated, ostracized, etc… Or sometimes it is showing people at their worst, or not in the best light (at a minimum).

As a society, we love judging others. We get off on it because it somehow makes us feel better. Our primitive animal minds still operate under a zero-sum premise, where someone else's gain is bad for us because that means there is less of a good thing out there for us to benefit from or gain. On the flip side, someone else's failure is good for us, since it means there is more for us out there to have and gain. This logic is, of course, silly. It is clear when we read it here in black and white with a calm ordinary (as in emotionless) mind. But unfortunately, this zero-sum game is ingrained in our vessel's autopilot in such an entrenched manner, that we don't even realize it exists and manipulates our own thoughts sometimes. 

So, when someone offends us or we see someone in a shameful act, our immediate (and often only) response is to use this as an excuse to hate, get angry at or put-down the other person. Sometimes we do this out loud, other times we do it internally in our thoughts, but we almost always see them in a negative light. What Marcus is reminding us here, is that when we have such thoughts, it is ourselves that are being the illogical and irrational (thus shameful) ones. 

We will get offended. People will willingly or (more often than not) unwillingly, directly or indirectly upset or irritate us. This is a given and out of our control. But our thoughts and responses are entirely within our control.  So, this week when you feel contempt for someone for being shameful or for offending you, remind yourself that YOU have the choice to forgive, be patient and respond in a kind manner. You have this choice. Check your emotions and their knee jerk reactions aside, and ask yourself honestly: Who do I want to be and how do I wish to respond?

I would love to hear some examples of trying times where you responded in control with kindness and forgiveness instead of letting your emotions take control. Reach out on your preferred social media platform and share your stories.

Anderson Silver

(Author of "Your User's Manual" and "Vol 2: Your Duality Within")

Click here for the full post on the Evident Stoics tumblr

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