It’s Not The Thing, It’s What We Make Of It – The Daily Stoic – Part 15 of 366

When you are distressed by an external thing, it’s not the thing itself that troubles you, but only your judgement of it. And you can wipe this out at a moment’s notice.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 8.47

The book’s example after this quote is about Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He spent his whole life dreaming and preparing for his career in politics, but at 39 he got polio. Did he let this horrible disease, an “external thing,” end his hopes and dreams of winning the presidency? We all know the answer given that FDR is widely regarded as one of the greatest political figures in American history.

This one also hits home for me. As we’ve touched on in the past, it is easy to feel like life was unfair in the hand it dealt you and then use that as fuel to generate a myriad of reasons why you don’t have what you want. My dad became disabled when I was in fourth grade. My mother got breast cancer a couple years later, and she died when I was in eleventh grade. My maternal grandfather died that same year. The knock on effects of these events were huge. Almost everything in life changed in some way. My entire childhood was defined by these events, and they were all outside of my control.

It took me a long time to make my peace. Ultimately the feelings of worry, anger, stress, disdain, and sadness were generated from within, and they were holding me back. Changing how I thought about these things very likely saved my life, and only now am I able to look back and see how fortune I still was in so many ways.

The book ends with the line, “Let’s not confuse acceptance with passivity.” This is an important note. The idea is not to invalidate your feelings, to ignore things, or not to care. It is not about lack of agency, or abdicating your desires and ability (and responsibility) to act. From my view, you should experience the emotions as they come to you. It is good to be sad when sad things happen. But don’t get stuck and dwell on it for too long.

Time moves on, and so should you. Accept the things you cannot change.

Always The Same – The Daily Stoic – Part 14 of 366

Think by way of example on the times of Vespasian, and you’ll see all these things: marrying, raising children, falling ill, dying, wars, holiday feasts, commerce, farming, flattering, pretending, suspecting, scheming, praying that others die, grumbling over one’s lot, falling in love, amassing fortunes, lusting after office and power. Now that life of theirs is dead and gone… the times of Trajan, again the same…

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.32

It is easy to think we now live at the apex of human society, with our impressive technology and handful of accomplishments truly defining of our species. The Industrial Revolution. The invention of flight. The moon landing. The Internet.

But, truthfully, evolution takes a long time to occur. It takes a duration so long it is not easily comprehended by humans. Humans today are not appreciably different from humans 50, 100, or 1000 years ago. Sure, we have more technology and knowledge at our finger tips, but that largely does not change who and what we are. As Marcus Aurelius points out, we largely do what our ancestors did. Our ancestors will do largely what we do. Per the book, “With a few exceptions, things are the same as they’ve always been and always will be.”

We are all, for a brief time, passengers on the starship of Earth. It was here long before we were born, and it will be here long after we are gone. Radical change is not in the cards. Humans are humans, and they do what humans do. Make your peace with that and you improve your chances of a pleasant journey through the cosmos.