“Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, devious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil.”
Meditations (Marcus Aurelius) Book 2
I’ve used this quote before but it’s a good one so I’m returning to it. In these few words you’ll find the essence of what we mean by ‘No surprises’.
It doesn’t mean ‘No changes’ – that really would be dull.
Nor does it mean control everything so you know what’s coming – that would be both impossible and (even if it were possible) entirely counter-productive.
Rather it means that we can understand the nature of the world and of the people who inhabit it. Understand that people are fickle, that misfortune is a very regular occurrence and that we do not need to be surprised by the things we have foreknowledge of.
We may not know precisely who will treat us poorly today, tomorrow or indeed on any other day but we know that someone will – and that’s enough. We also know the ways in which we may be mistreated, at least in general terms and so we can prepare for them ‘thematically’.
We know that misfortune comes in themes. That there are groups of issues that share the same characteristics and we can prepare ourselves to deal with, to cope with these characteristic annoyances in advance.
Stoicism isn’t only an antidote to anger and emotional distress. It’s a recipe for genuine joy – the kind of joy and wonder that comes from endless discovery and the satisfaction that ensues ‘just because’.
Stoics don’t need a reason to be joyful. It’s enough that we’re alive and able to be joyful.
Stoicism is a way of approaching and coping with the world, society and the vagaries of life that brings peace, calm and even joy. It’s a method of being both effective and contented no matter what life throws at us. There’s an awful lot of wisdom in some of those old books, you know. Why not take a lesson or two from ancient stoics like Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius. You’ll be glad you did.
Here we build upon two earlier principles. Epictetus made it clear that we can only control our own thoughts, feelings and behaviours – not those of other people.
Marcus Aurelius taught us the 2 point maxim for dealing with abusive people…
1. Be the best me that I can be;
2. Be grateful that I’m not them.
Here we add another perspective from Seneca. Anger is only possible when the world doesn’t meet our expectations. If we adjust our expectations to reality the petty insults of others won’t hurt us at all.
In this, fourth Stoicism video we begin to show how it’s possible to layer Stoic wisdom, one point upon another to create a robust system of thought and attitude that really does defend us against those who seek to hurt, upset, anger or distress us.
Stoic philosophers Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus help us to cope with abusive, contemptuous, disrespectful and mean-spirited people by remembering the distinction between what is ours to control and what is theirs. When others treat us badly their actions say more about them and their lack of understanding than about us. In truth, their behaviour has no bearing at all upon us. It’s entirely about them.
Marcus Aurelius’ 2 point maxim helps us to deal graciously with these people without becoming upset or being tempted to sink to their level. They take responsibility for their poor actions – we have a different standard of behaviour to maintain.
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We like to think we’re all ‘ever so advanced’ in the 21st century but the ancients weren’t exactly stupid either. Well over 2,000 years ago Stoic philosophers began laying the foundations for good mental health and the principles they established are still in use today.
This stuff won’t cure serious mental illness but as a strategy for mental health promotion it’s a damn good starting place!
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