I had the apartment to myself this weekend, which means after my ice bath on Saturday I decided to party it up. And by party it up, I mean watch Netflix movies and eat Buffalo wings by myself. Yes, I am an old man at the age of 25.
I watched a few movies, The Rainmaker and Into the Wild. The Rainmaker is about a young lawyer played by Matt Damon who files a lawsuit against a health insurance company on behalf of a dying young man with leukemia. Into the Wild is the true story of Chris McCandles who, after graduating from college, traveled across the country and moved into the Alaska wilderness where he subsequently starved to death.
Both movies riled me up emotionally. During the Rainmaker, I became angry at the injustice caused by the fictional insurance company. During Into the Wild I felt that same desire to escape Chris did, and also felt the pain his parents experienced as they wondered what happened to their son.
Movies, at least good movies, manipulate the viewers emotions. It should not leave you feeling tranquil.
Stoicism’s goal, is of course, to achieve tranquility.
I realized that watching emotionally stirring movies are excellent opportunities to implement Stoic exercises.
During Into the Wild, I used negative visualization to think about how I’d feel if a close family member or loved one went missing. I became immediately appreciative that no one I loved was missing.
Never say of anything, “I have lost it”; but, “I have returned it.” Is your child dead? It is returned. Is your wife dead? She is returned. Is your estate taken away? Well, and is not that likewise returned? “But he who took it away is a bad man.” What difference is it to you who the giver assigns to take it back? While he gives it to you to possess, take care of it; but don’t view it as your own, just as travelers view a hotel. – Epictetus
During The Rainmaker, I contemplated the various injustices that occur all around the world. The US justice system, which, by historical standards is very fair, has wrongfully convicted and executed a number of people. We should continue to fight injustice, but not let ourselves become disturbed by it.
The Stoics understood that governments can wrong their citizens; indeed, the Roman Stoics, as we have seen, had an unfortunate tendency to be unjustly punished by the powers that be. The Stoics also agree with modern social reformers that we have a duty to fight against social injustice. Where they differ from modern reformers is in their understanding of human psychology. In particular, the Stoics don’t think it is helpful for people to consider themselves victims of society—or victims of anything else, for that matter. If you consider yourself a victim, you are not going to have a good life; if, however, you refuse to think of yourself as a victim—if you refuse to let your inner self be conquered by your external circumstances—you are likely to have a good life, no matter what turn your external circumstances take. – William Irving
Movies are another opportunity for you to incorporate Stoic exercises into your daily live, so read a little Seneca or Epictetus before you start working through your Netflix queue.