For a while now I’ve been seeing increasing numbers of tweets sharing people’s feelings of frustration, helplessness, burnout, incipient despair….
At times like this, my own first recourse and advice to others has been to turn to the following thoughts from the Enchirdion of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus:
The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men.
But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you [will] not be harmed….
Work, therefore to be able to say to every harsh appearance, “You are but an appearance, and not absolutely the thing you appear to be.” And then examine it by those rules which you have, and first, and chiefly, by this: whether it concerns the things which are in our own control, or those which are not; and, if it concerns anything not in our control, be prepared to say that it is nothing to you.
But—literally!—I just finished watching the memorial service on the Washington Mall. And, based on that experience, I understand that the Stoic wisdom of Epictetus is incomplete. Yes, we are responsible for our own behavior, and for controlling our own emotional responses. But we must also acknowledge—indeed embrace—the common stress, fear, anxiety, grief, loneliness, and temptation to give-in to despair we share with our fellow citizens.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.