January 9, 2017 – What We Control and What We Don’t


“Some things are in our control, while others are not. We control our opinion, choice, desire, aversion and, in a word, everything of our own doing. We don’t control our body, property, reputation, position and, in a word, everything not of our own doing. Even more, the things in our control are by nature free, unhidered and unobstructed, while those not in our control are weak, slavish, can be hindered and are not our own.” – Epictetus, Enchiridion, 1.1-2

I do not believe in fate. I do believe we look at events and then try to understand how they connect. That being said, it does give me pause when my first thought is one of irony. Consider the following example. I woke up this morning to a dog on my skull. Our little dog Fennway was having a panic attack due to the chirping of our house alarm. The power had gone out, and the alarm system was letting us all know it could not connect to the monitoring station. Pulling myself from slumber I put the dogs in the backyard, saving them from the panic-inducing chirp (we have a second larger dog named Roxy). Picking up my daily Stoic meditation to see a reading on what we can and cannot control seemed far too appropriate. I should also mention that the battery in my wife’s car died the previous day, and I was to test and replace as needed. All before going to work.

An opportunity for frustration and anger presented itself, but I was reminded these events are out of my control. In the words of Judd Nelson from The Breakfast Club, “The world’s an imperfect place. Screws fall out.”

Why are we bothered by what we cannot control? Is it a desire for justice? Is it a need to have others think like we do? Why can we not simply be comfortable with how we believe should be the appropriate response?

My wife, daughter and I watched The Golden Globes last night. Well, we recorded it so we could fast forward through the commercials and uninteresting parts. While I do not care much for who wins (I have my favorites) I do enjoy hearing the speeches given. At least one will be moving based on its sincerity, and/or in what it says about the person based on who they thank, and how they thank them. Even if you did not watch the ceremony you may have heard of the controversy, and I use that word loosely.

Meryl Streep received the Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime award, and instead of giving a speech focusing on her career she used it to comment on Donald Trump. Unsurprisingly Trump took to Twitter, using the medium to “defend himself”. I am not going to offer an opinion on either Streep’s speech or Trump’s reply. Do I have an opinion? Sure I do. We all do. Yet to attend to the words of an actress and a politician with respect to their personal feelings towards each other has no bearing on me, my beliefs or my actions. Getting drawn into the Twitter replies, the myriad of articles or news story comment sections will only distract me from those things which need my attention.

When we turn our attention inward first we give ourselves the power to evaluate the importance of things. Repulse those negative distractions of which you have no control.

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