Stoicism isn’t new, and it’s not something I “discovered”. Someone asked me to touch on the basics of it, so we will do that over that the next few days, but there are better resources out there. Ryan Holiday, in particular, has some great work on it. You can’t go wrong by going straight to the source either: Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius come to mind immediately. I’ll list some specific resources on Sunday.
There are few things you have control over, but your character is one of them, and this is something you always have control over. People can do what they want to you, they can say anything about you, but you always have control over how you respond to them. If we look at it, our response to things largely determines our character, which is cool because it gives us a locus of control at all times.
Entertain an idea with me.
External events are neutral, because they are outside your control.
Assigning things outside ourselves a morality or “objective” value is odd, because we cannot control them.
Is the moon good or bad?
The Grand Canyon?
We may like or dislike these things depending on their impact on us, but that doesn’t really tell us anything about them. The Grand Canyon is great if you have fond memories of a family vacation there as a kid, terrible if your family fell off the edge while taking a selfie on that trip. A full moon is awesome if you’re on a date, terrible if you are trying to rob your neighbor. Gravity is cool, but it also keeps me from flying, which sucks.
Events are very much the same.
How we feel about them often just depends on how they impact us, either physically or emotionally or how they change our lives. For some people this last election was a tragedy of historic proportions, for others it was a victory for the forces of righteousness and virtue. Both sides would tell me “objectively” why their perspective is right, and this would seem self-evident to them. This was true of every other election we’ve had, and with the rise of dictators and reformers alike in other countries.
How we respond to events tells us about us, not the events.
We can focus on events or we can focus on our reaction to them. We only have control over one of these, and only one of these has anything to do with our character. The events themselves have nothing to do with this.
It’s odd to me that things that things like this have become important to me, because I would have rejected any notion of them in the past. I needed to believe that the things that happened were the problem, not me. This left me out of control, and at the whim of external forces and my emotions. I blamed everything and everyone else, never looking at myself.
I suppose this had something to do with my character.