Saturday, April 25, 2020

Finding happiness in lockdown

The wise country of New Zealand, which I currently call home, has been locked down for the last few weeks. It reminds me of the time we locked ourselves within the walls of Athens to protect ourselves from Sparta.
How many times I have argued that happiness is not to be found in shopping malls and other materialist pursuits, I cannot recall. Over the centuries I have talked to many people about seeking happiness in simpler pleasures. And now we have that opportunity. It seems to me that if we can let go of our attachment to material things, true happiness can be found.
Let us not cling to the things that we can no longer have. Bringing those things back is beyond our sphere of control. Let us focus instead on what we can control. Walking in the sun. Talking with friends. The things that make us truly human.
One day those other things will come back -- brought back by people who control them. And when they return, we may find that we don't need them as much as we once thought.
- S

Friday, April 3, 2020

Sphere of control

Living in times of trouble can bring out the best and worst in people. It can also reveal emotional reasoning that leads to anxiety. I have been meditating on this, and today my friends, if I may have your patience, I shall share my thoughts.

Consider the anxiety you experience if you have to perform in public. Perhaps you have to make an important speech. But why are you anxious? Usually it is because you are worried about what other people will think. You may believe that if something goes wrong, then people would think badly of you. And if they think badly of you, you would be a less worthy person. The emotional reasoning can be expressed quite simply.

1. If I don’t have the approval of others, I’d be a worthless person

2. I don’t want to be a worthless person

3. So I must have the approval of others (from 1, 2)

4. Because I must have the approval of others, If something could go wrong and result in me not having the approval of others, then I must constantly think about it and not relax

5. My speech could go wrong and result in me not having the approval of others

6. So, I must constantly think about it and not relax (feelings of anxiety) (from 4, 5)

But why be anxious over something that is beyond your control? We have very little influence over the thoughts of other people. They will think whatever they like, and they are free to do so. Now, you don’t know that your speech will go wrong, but if it does, who is to say that you would lose the approval of the audience? They may admire your courage. And consider the thought that you’d be a worthless person if you don’t have the approval of others. Why base your reasoning on this rule? It can be easily refuted. For example, I imagine during World War 2, someone who hid Jewish people in their attic would not have had the approval of the Nazis, but they most certainly would be a worthy person. And very courageous. So the rule: if I don’t have the approval of others, I’d be a worthless person seems to be questionable.

Another way to look at your speech would be to accept that the audiences’ thoughts are beyond your control and you should instead focus on what is within your control. Write the best speech you can. Speak as clearly as is within your ability. Then walk away knowing that you did your best. If someone makes a negative comment, you can control your response to their comment. Smile and say “you should see me on a bad day”. But also learn from their comment, if it is reasonable. Learning is within your control. Your interpretation of the situation is within your control.

Consider this. I might say that people shouldn’t die from viruses. That there should be a cure. That scientists should be working faster and politicians should do something different. And I might get very upset while making these statements. But these are all outside of my sphere of influence. Who am I to demand that the world is such that people don’t die from viruses? The world is as it is. My statement is a symptom of the demand for perfection. But if I demand perfection from an imperfect world, full of imperfect people, then disappointment will be my friend. Instead, I should accept that the world is not always going to be the way I want it to be and that a great many things are beyond my control. But I do have control over my own responses to these issues. I can avoid public places and do my best to avoid catching the virus and slow its spread.

Some people might respond to this position by suggesting that in accepting imperfection, we slow or stop improvement. After all, we want to make the world a better place, right? Such wise people make a good point. I respond by agreeing that we should try our best to improve the world. But that we should work within our sphere of influence and not ruminate on things that are beyond our control. Recognize what you can do and accept that there are things that our not within your control.

- Socrates