|We cannot choose our external circumstances,
but we can always choose how we respond to them.
Epictetus, The Enchiridion
(continued from previous post)
One of the axiomatic phrases that I live by is – tomorrow this will be a funny story. It is an attempt to put some perspective on whatever I am experiencing at that time. So in the weeks after the break into my car, I was telling the story to friends and others, with the punchline – hey, at least he did not shit in my car.
This usually lead to 2 types of reactions from people; first was that I was a glass half full kind of guy, and the second was frustration at the lack of anger on my side. The second reaction was a real surprise to me.
I do not think of myself as a glass half full type, and I think many of the people around me would say the same. As a stoic, I try to practice negative visualisation as much as I can. At the risk of oversimplification, negative visualisation is about the contemplation of catastrophe, of which death would be the worst outcome. The Stoics talk about contemplating that you will never see your friends again when you wave them farewell, or to contemplate your children’s death when you kiss them good night. Negative visualisation would be a contemplation of everyday life which could end quite unceremoniously at any moment. Seneca writes that when one contemplates catastrophes, robs them of their power. I also think that this practice helps one to anticipate and potentially avoid catastrophes as well.
It did not, however, help me avoid having my car broken into.
It did mean that I could continue my day, doing the things I needed to do, meeting the people I was going to meet, without any significant distress or unhappiness. It meant that I still owned my day. And that was something powerful and productive. When something bad happens, it can often derail our plans, and our ambitions. This could be for a day, a week, or as long as we allow it to. To me, this practice of negative visualisation has become part of my approach to being productive.
The second reaction – others’ frustrated at my lack of anger – is puzzling to me. I still don’t quite know what it means. I got the sense that it wasn’t frustration on my behalf, but frustration at me. Perhaps I had disappointed them by not reacting in a manner, that to them, was expected and normal. Perhaps I had cheated them out of an opportunity for mutual outrage on the evils of society. Or perhaps it is because, as one friend says, I am a pod person.