“If a person gave away your body to some passerby, you’d be furious. Yet you hand over your mind to anyone who comes along, so they may abuse you, leaving it disturbed and troubled – have you no shame in that?” – Epictetus, Enchiridon, 28
I’ve been told on more than one occasion, and by numerous people, that I overthink things. At times they are surely correct, but equally, at times, they are not. Some things demand extra consideration.
This meditation leverages social media as an example of how we allow our minds to be controlled by others. We willingly open ourselves up to suggestion and repetition. Do we think so much of ourselves, that we are so strong to overcome these attacks? Even the strongest soldier or athlete knows when to turn away in order to protect the body. It isn’t a weakness to unfollow a feed or to delete an application.
We’ve seen this theme repeated in the both “Clarity” and “Passions and Emotions”. Know what is influencing your mind. Don’t allow your mind to get caught in extremes. And now, be aware of what you’re losing.
The term “Fake News” is a perfect example of this. We have a single individual, and frankly, a group of individuals, claiming that which opposes them is “Fake News”. At times they are qualifying exactly what the reliable news sources are, and conveniently they are sources favorable to them. First, fake is being misused. News sources may focus on specific aspects or perspective, but to claim the information is constructed requires actual evidence. Second, when attempting to suppress a source as reliable without evidence, this is where one gets dangerously close to propaganda. Lastly, none of this matters if those who consume the information are not being led without thinking.
We should be ashamed of ourselves if we are not considering, in this example, the very sources supplying the information. Those in power would be grateful if we gave our minds to them.
“In public avoid talking excessively about your accomplishments and dangers, for however much you enjoy recounting your dangers, it’s not so pleasant for others to hear about your affairs.” – Epictetus, Enchiridion,u 33.14
How confident are that our memory will not fail us? As we age our memory gets worse, but even before that the truth is we cannot recall with 100% accuracy anything that we’ve experienced. Ken Eisold, Ph.D. writes (source):
…neuroscientists have shown that each time we remember something, we are reconstructing the event, reassembling it from traces throughout the brain. Psychologists have pointed out that we also suppress memories that are painful or damaging to self-esteem. We could say that, as a result, memory is unreliable.
The words of Epictetus should be observed with discipline and repeated with frequency. While you might think your adventure is awesome, others may not care. Consider the most amazing thing you’ve ever done or experienced. What makes it great? The story or being situated in the story?
The key word above is “excessive”. Sharing our lives is what allows for that social side of us to flourish. It helps us create relationships by finding common likes or experiences. No one wants to hear someone else ramble on about what they’ve done or seen, but what adds greater weight to this is our inability to recall the stories with accuracy. Can we be sure we aren’t enhancing for dramatic effect? Is there a false humility to under-telling the story?
The more we talk about ourselves the more we are seen as braggarts. When we do this we fail to be aware of how we are being perceived. Irene Scopelleti writes (source):
“Most people probably realize that they experience emotions other than pure joy when they are on the receiving end of someone else’s self-promotion. Yet, when we engage in self-promotion ourselves, we tend to overestimate others’ positive reactions and underestimate their negative ones.”
It truly is a double edged sword. Braggart, and possibly too a liar.
“Keep in mind that it isn’t the one who has it in for you and takes a swipe that harms you, but rather the harm comes from your own belief about the abuse. So when someone arouses your anger, know that it’s really your own opinion fueling it. Instead, make it your first response not to be carried away by such impressions, for with time and distance self-mastery is more easily achieved.” – Epictetus, Enchiridion, 20
The movie Road House has a place in my observations of this meditation. There are not many guys I know who do not view Road House as an epic tough guy B-movie. If you have not seen it I will give you the summary. Patrick Swayze plays James Dalton, a “cooler” (think of a bouncer) who uses Buddhism and philosophy to keep a level personality when dealing with the problems one encounters when keeping a bar/dance club safe from the drunk and ornery.
At one point in the movie, Dalton is sharing with the employees of a honky tonk club how to deal with patrons who are being difficult.
Steve: Being called a cocksucker isn’t personal?
Dalton: No. It’s two nouns combined to elicit a prescribed response.
Steve: What if somebody calls my mama a whore?
Dalton: Is she?
It’s a great reminder for us to consider what is being said. Is it true? Why is it offending us if it isn’t true? Or, what if it’s true? Should I get mad at someone speaking the truth, or should I, instead, focus on what I have discovered warrants my attention? Maybe, you’ll respond, the way they said it is offensive. Epictetus would tell us our reaction is all our own. If we decide not to let the tone bother us, it won’t. As I’ve expressed before, it may not be easy to do, but life will surely give us chances to perfect our thoughts.
Self-control can be achieved. Distance yourself from the passion, and give yourself time to consider how to react.