Stoicism: Day 14 and Week 2 Recap – Modern Tragedies

This week was mostly a good one. I did have a weird mood swing on Day 10, but otherwise the week was tranquil. Yesterday’s ice bath was warmer than usual, but I still suffered through the uncontrollable shivering afterwards.

In last week’s weekly re-cap, I discussed not sweating the small stuff and how you could improve your happiness by letting the little things go.

In this week’s recap, I’d like to talk about the big things that could happen.

This past Friday, a 19-year old walked into a mall in Colombia, MD and killed two young employees at a skate shop before killing himself.

Just over a year ago, a 20-year old walked into Sandy Hook elementary school shot and killed 20 children.

This January, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the death toll in Syria has reached approximately 130,000.

I just cited some of the more horrific tragedies that happened recently; the events that make the news. I just found out one of my high school classmates father had just passed away.  He died of Lou Gehrig’s disease.  This did not make the news but it is still tragic.

I bring up these examples not to ruin your day, but to remind you that you are not exempt from ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ In modern society, and especially modern, Western society, we have a tendency to fight against these tragedies. We lobby to ban guns, intervene militarily in foreign countries, or raise money to find the cure for a an incurable disease.

While these are noble battles, it’s foolish to believe that we will eliminate all tragedy and suffering from the world, and it’s even more foolish to believe that these things couldn’t happen to you. If you drive a car to work everyday, or if your friends and family drive a car to work everyday, you and your family are in mortal danger. Literally. Driving is very dangerous. It’s people driving around in pieces of metal at 70 miles per hour. You tempt fate every day by driving.

There is an interesting “life hack” trend going on right now called the low-information diet. The premise is that most news and things you read online are irrelevant to you and actually detract from your productivity. It’s not only useless, but it’s bad for you.

I mostly agree. The fact that Justin Bieber was arrested gives you no benefit. But, looking at it from the eyes of a Stoic, some of the stories can be useful, especially the tragic ones. Last year when I heard about the Sandy Hook shooting, I was deeply saddened by the event and couldn’t help but thinking about my nephew (who is 3 years old).  These tragic events are excellent prompts for negative visualization, and force you to remember that bad things happen, and that they can happen to you.

If you are secular, you probably don’t have a routine in which you are forced to hear stories about tragedies and the cruelty of fate and chance and contemplate what the means in your own life.  Use the tools of the modernity to help you do that on your own: the 24-hour news cycle.

I’ll leave you with the wise words of Epictetus:

Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it is his pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the character assigned you; to choose it is another’s. 

Week 2 Recap

  • Arushi

    It’s a sheer coincidence that this morning I woke to a sad news of someone I knew who passed away in an accident. The person who died, was merely an acquaintance but it got me really upset, also because I happen to know that person. I did feel grateful for my family is safe and sound but on the other hand, how to let of grief?

    • Sorry to hear about your friend. I’ve never been in that situation so I don’t know how I’d react. Seneca has a good essay about losing friends.

      “We however, may be forgiven for bursting into tears, if only our tears have not flowed to excess, and if we have checked them by our own efforts. Let not the eyes be dry when he have lost a friend, nor let them overflow. We may weep, but we must not wail.”