Our right sphere of influence

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Epictetus

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
— Epictetus

We often hear, or make, the lament of “why do bad things happen to good people?”  The Stoics, modern and ancient, would argue that there is no such thing.  Things are divided into two main camps, those things which we can control, and those things which we cannot.  Namely, the experience we are having as critters bearing about a human central nervous system (and dare I suggest it, a soul/consciousness) are not in our control.  Our response both as internal thinking and as how we act are.

The things that happen to us are neither good nor evil.  Making one’s thinking right with reality and virtue are the only goods.  Everything else, the Stoics argue, are indifferents.  Meaning, that they cannot be good or bad, they just are.  Only our thoughts, emotions, and actions in the world can be good or evil.  We as rational actors determine this.  This isn’t to say that whatever we decide is good, it is not a true moral relativism, so make not that mistake.

“Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems “
— Epictetus

Our thinking can be well or ill.  There is a branch of Psychiatry called the Initiative for Innate Health which seeks to teach people that perceived illness are “warning alarms” for unhealthy thinking.  Anxiety, panic attacks, even schizophrenia can be used by the person as a barometer for whether or not they are using their thoughts correctly.  It is controversial, but it tends to be relatively successful at getting folks off (or reducing drastically) chemical interventions and in the subjective quality of life of the people who are treated.

I suspect the stoics would be not at all surprised.  Stoicism seems to be this strange mixture of fatalism and free will.  “The situation I find myself in merely is, my reaction to is up to me.”  The more we can bend our thinking to adequately represent reality as we experience, the closer to happiness we will find ourselves.

I see this at work.  Most of us at work are in nearly the same position.  Some are happy and content, some occasionally unhappy (me), and some habitually unhappy.  How is it that nearly identical experience provoke such a wide range of responses?  The simple answer is that they don’t.  The response is up to me, to us, to you.

Bend your thoughts your to good things, and find goodness in your experiences.  Act with virtue, live with control, and accept.

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