Be­fore send­ing an­gry text, take a deep breath and con­sider the an­cient Stoics

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Insight - BY AN­DREW FIALA Spe­cial to The Bee

We seem to en­joy out­rage. One day peo­ple pile on about a smil­ing teenager in a MAGA hat and a Na­tive Amer­i­can drum­mer. An­other day we’re com­plain­ing about ref­er­ees or kneel­ing ath­letes. We get worked up about the sex lives of pop stars and the lies of politi­cians. The ether flows with mock­ing and an­gry words. In­stead of lis­ten­ing, we ac­cuse. In­stead of think­ing things over, we over-re­act.

This is a good time to re­mem­ber the value of equa­nim­ity. Anger and out­rage are not virtues. A bal­anced life is calm and com­posed. Think be­fore you speak. Rec­og­nize that most things are be­yond your con­trol and none of your busi­ness. The vir­tu­ous per­son re­mains up­right and steady in the face of ad­ver­sity. And of­ten she re­mains silent.

This is a cen­tral idea in the teach­ing of the an­cient Stoics. The word “stoic” is used to de­scribe some­one who re­mains calm de­spite hard­ship. This can be­come a car­i­ca­ture of a rigid and emo­tion­less per­son. But the goal of Sto­icism is not to elim­i­nate emo­tion. Rather, it is to avoid those ex­tremes of emo­tion that un­der­mine clear think­ing and cause anx­i­ety.

In an anx­ious cul­ture driven by out­rage we for­get the im­por­tance of emo­tional con­trol. We have been taught that em­pa­thy is im­por­tant and that it is good to ex­press our emo­tions. Some even sug­gest that there is some­thing wrong with bot­tling up your emo­tions. Let them out, they say. It is healthy to cry and rage and vent.

But it is nei­ther healthy nor wise to al­low your emo­tions to con­trol your think­ing. We don’t want doc­tors, for ex­am­ple, to be driven by emo­tion. We ex­pect pro­fes­sion­als to keep their com­po­sure. A stoic doc­tor is a calm­ing pres­ence who re­as­sures with her thought­ful sta­bil­ity.

We also find praise for calm­ness and self-con­trol in Chi­nese Tao­ism and in other tra­di­tions that teach that about mind­ful­ness and bal­ance. These tra­di­tions re­mind us to con­sider a broader point of view, to learn to ac­cept the in­evitable and to go with the flow.

The uni­verse cares lit­tle for our rag­ing and vent­ing. Things will come and go, whether we like it or not. Ev­ery gen­er­a­tion has dumb peo­ple and pompous

politi­cians who do and say stupid things. But ev­ery em­pire crum­bles to dust and the loud­mouths are even­tu­ally for­got­ten.

But those who rage against the in­jus­tice of it all imag­ine that some­how their an­gry out­bursts mat­ter. Per­haps they want to leave a mark on the world by yelling. But heated words blow away with the wind. Anger is not per­sua­sive. And na­ture is in­dif­fer­ent to our com­plaints.

The Stoics teach us to ac­cept what we must and fo­cus on im­prov­ing our­selves. Be pru­dent and cau­tious. Seek knowl­edge. Do the right thing. Don’t be sur­prised by the id­iots around you. And stop wor­ry­ing about things you can’t con­trol, in­clud­ing those who con­tinue to spit into the wind.

Ac­cept that bad things hap­pen to good peo­ple. Ac­knowl­edge that all good things even­tu­ally end. But also re­al­ize that noth­ing bad lasts for­ever.

Of course, even sto­icism has its lim­i­ta­tions. We need to be mod­er­ate, even in mod­er­a­tion. Amer­i­cans are not con­tent merely to ac­cept the in­evitable. We em­brace free­dom and cel­e­brate cre­ativ­ity. We find cures and make im­prove­ments. We de­velop science and tech­nol­ogy, hop­ing that knowl­edge can make things bet­ter.

Sto­icism goes too far if it teaches us sim­ply to stand still while things fall apart. Noth­ing gets bet­ter un­less we work to make it so. But that work should be smart and rea­son­able. The work of im­prov­ing the world is not emo­tional work. Rather, it re­quires in­ge­nu­ity and knowl­edge more than ex­cited pas­sion.

Stoic ac­cep­tance does not give up on a lim­ited and prag­matic kind of hope. Hu­man be­ings are clever and cre­ative. We are ra­tio­nal and re­silient. We’re not per­fect. Nor are we im­mor­tal. But we can re­pair what we break and do bet­ter to­mor­row. The one thing we can im­prove is our own state of mind.

Pre­pare for the worst, work as hard as you can, and give thanks for what you get. Ac­knowl­edge that noth­ing comes for free and noth­ing lasts for­ever. And stop com­plain­ing. Grit and grat­i­tude make life bear­able. But anger sets fires. And fool­ish words fan the flames.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.