How Stoicism can calm the tempest.
Updated: Oct 5, 2020
There are great thinkers whose words we can use centuries after they were written. Now, more than ever, I look to the Stoic philosophers for a moment of balanced wisdom.
Though not a strictly scientific sample, my social media feed has political and religious viewpoints that range all over the map -- basically all political viewpoints and many religions are represented in my friends' list. I know that isn't a perfectly curated sample of our country, but it is not terrible.
I am personally acquainted with almost everybody on that list and there isn't an evil person among them.
However, in this group of decent people of all points of view I have seen some exceptionally bad behavior.
I have seen justified anger lead to praising unjustified violence;
giddy pride at "unfriending" someone;
publicly regarding the "other" political stance as a moral deficiency;
support of banning creative work -- or changing it without the artists' consent;
accusations -- both direct name-calling and passive aggressively throwing shade.
I have seen this from folks (who I know to be decent people in real life) on the left and on the right and from practicers of many different religions, agnosticism, and atheism.
This isn't the Yankees vs. the Red Sox -- those games end -- this is our country. The cohabitation of our country is not where you get to "unfriend" each other.
These are our neighbors and future in-laws that we're accusing of being evil.
We are in this together people, the left needs the right and the right needs the left. We need moderates and third party enthusiasts too. We must talk to each other and have our differences of opinion.
The balance of chaos and order (or left and right) is necessary to keep us out of the tyranny of our own ideologies. If we go too far in either direction it will be to our own detriment. We've seen tyranny and oppression from both the far right and the far left. You go too far right and you end up with Auschwitz and Fascism. You go too far left and you end up with the Gulag Archipelago and Communism. Too far in either direction and we end up subject to an unchecked power and authority that oppresses the masses physically, psychologically, and spiritually. We do not have to return to either of those.
So, how could Stoics help with that? Well, the one thing that we can do is direct our own thoughts -- which become our actions -- which affect the world around us. Our evolution can be a peaceful one if we govern our own thoughts and behavior a little better.
If those thoughts and actions are edifying maybe they'll trend and fix the world. Stranger things have happened.
But...It starts with each of us governing our own individual minds.
Before you do or say anything, take a beat and a breath and measure it against this thought:
“If it is not right, do not do it, if it is not true, do not say it.” – Marcus Aurelius
"Unfriending" based on politics is not right. Do not do it.
"The person who does wrong, does wrong to themselves. The unjust person is unjust to themselves -- making themselves evil." -- Marcus Aurelius
Unchecked anger and vitriol will hurt you more than anyone else. It often feels like moral high ground but it isn't. Evil is far easier to recognize with rationality and calm than it is with a reactionary negative emotion.
"If a person gave away your body to some passerby, you'd be furious. Yet you hand over your mind to anyone who comes along so they may abuse you, leaving it disturbed and troubled -- have you no shame in that?" -- Epictetus
Loyalty to a party no matter what they do or how they depart from what they promised is handing over your mind to whichever red or blue passerby is running for office. This random "passerby" is less important in our lives than the people we unfriend over politics.
“It is the power of the mind to be unconquerable.”
And here is the hard part -- even when the folks with whom you disagree are being super annoying, throwing shade, and bragging about all the evildoers they've unfriended you must not let your mind be conquered. Take a beat and a breath. Love them more when they are annoying (because you know they need some love right then).
It is a habit and a practice and it is hard to do. Make a calm, unconquerable mind your go-to move. You will be admired and imitated. You'll set a trend and the evolution to a wiser world will be a possibility.
Daniella Bozzone is a mindset and habit writer. She has written and illustrated several uplifting children's books including Lucy Cate and her Gratitude Attitude
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