Thursday, September 26, 2019

Lead Your Own Nature

I remember one time I was driving from the San Francisco Bay Area to Santa Barbara, where I was attending university at the time. I had a packed car full of colleagues. Many of us would carpool together to visit our families over school breaks. It was my turn to drive.

On the way I was cut off randomly by another car. Nothing bad happened. No accident. I may have swerved or braked a bit. But what I remember vividly is the reactions of my passengers. They were angry. Yelling at the other car. “You idiot, you could have killed us!”  Everyone was pretty heated. Except for me... and that’s why I remember this. Because not only was I not angry about it, I was actually embarrassed that I didn’t have the same reaction as the others. I wanted to fit in but I don’t think I could have faked it if I tried. That could have been the end of my life, why wasn’t I angry?

There’s a story I heard recently (sorry forget the source) about a man who joins a group meditation. He starts getting into a good mind space but is interrupted when he hears the guy two rows over is making some funny sounds. They guy is making some awkward clicking sounds as if gnashing his teeth. And it doesn’t seem like he is just adjusting himself but doing it randomly. Is he doing this on purpose? Maybe he is just trying to mess with the class? And if it was a medical condition, he should know not to join a meditation class! The nerve. After it continues for a while the guy is thoroughly annoyed. He’s had enough of it and decides to confront the guy making the noises. When he gets close he realizes that the sound was not coming from the other man but rather from the water heater next to him.

This changes everything. Even though the sound was still there, the man calmed down instantly. It’s a bit silly to be angry at the water heater. But if we think about it, maybe we should be treating other humans like the water heater. We give special privilege to other humans to affect our own moods because we believe they have control of their actions and those actions should be what we expect. When it’s not, we get sad or angry. But in some sense humans aren’t really different than the broken water heater.

You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength. - Marcus Aurelius

And that’s one of the core principles of stoicism: you can’t change things out of your control. But you can change yourself. And to go even further with it Marcus stresses that it's within their nature to lie, cheat, drive poorly. "They can't help it". Rather "look straight ahead, follow your own nature, through your own actions."