I’ve been blogging daily now for the whole of Stoic Week, some of my discussions (Marcus Aurelius joke here) I’m proud of and others… well, let’s just say I’m not expecting any blogging awards this year. I’ve come up short today. I have nothing to say about philanthropy that hasn’t been said already. Making up something important sounding to say just to fill space is not something I’m going to do. I’m not going to say anything if I don’t have anything interesting to say.
Suffice to say that I think that if everyone subscribed to stoic philanthropy, then it would be a wonderful philosophy but the fewer people who subscribe, the more difficult it will be for them. I suppose though, on the other hand, who cares how difficult it is when it’s the right thing to do. Damn, that’s almost important sounding.
I am quite a sore loser. I’m not the worst sore loser I know (who shall remain nameless) but I do moan and sulk more than a grown human should. I get frustrated because I see myself as a great strategist and tactician so when the plans fail I feel as though my intelligence is being challenged, or ‘life is being unfair’.
Neither are things that actually happen when I lose a game but I still get frustrated by it. This is because we learn from our parents and my father is quick to anger, slow to apologise. I realise my mistakes and I also get frustrated by knowing when I’m acting as he does rather than acting as I should. So let’s look at my reactions from a Stoic Sage’s perspective: My feeling insulted by losing a game is the result of one of two things; either my strategy was beaten by a superior strategy, in which case my strategy wasn’t successful but I now know more about it’s weaknesses and the failure wasn’t fatal so I can always try again; or I was unlucky, in which case the random chance that resulted in my failure could easily have gone the other way and there’s no reason to be frustrated.
One reason I may feel frustration at my plans being foiled by those meddling kids might be because when I construct the plan in my mind, I assume success after success, nothing in my plan can possibly go wrong in my mind. This is of course ridiculous, so when planning I need to include contingencies for possible failures. Looking back on the computer game battle I lost on Sunday. The plan involved always hitting with mortars and that once a unit broke, that it wouldn’t regroup so when my mortars missed completely with a couple of barrages and the enemy cavalry unit regrouped, I felt frustrated and didn’t have a contingency ready. If I had included a second cavalry unit of my own, and an additional unit of infantry, I would have the additional men required to handle these failures.
This is what the Friday exercise seeks to get us to think about, sort of. Instead of having contingencies set up for when things go wrong, the exercise was about accepting the fact that things have gone wrong and not getting annoyed about things which I had no control over. So when the enemy cavalry regrouped and turned to charge into the fray, instead of being angry that this seemingly unlikely result happened, I would merely accept that it did and that it was beyond my control.
This stoicism can expand to other areas of our lives, apparently the original stoics used to contemplate their own deaths so that they could face it with stoicism. It was recommended we didn’t choose something so traumatic to begin with, but rather to build up to them beginning with small things that bother us. My sore loser attitude is, to my mind, the perfect example for this, it’s not supposed to be traumatic or a big deal in any way and so if I can work on accepting my losses in video games, I can build towards accepting my losses in day to day life, like that pile of rejection letters in my recycling bin.
I have restarted this blog post. I was going to write it about how I was an unconscionable jerk and how I judge people as the impressions of them that I have, rather than as the person they are. I had to stop that, why? Because I found myself doing the everything-thing:
Yeah, I managed to, in my effort to realise that I shouldn’t be treating people as if they are the impressions I have of them, develop negative and unhealthy emotions regarding my decisions and desires. New start then, I think too much. This is a shorthand, if I were to type out my full meaning it would be the following:
I think a LOT and sometimes when I’m thinking, I start accepting my beliefs and impressions as truth and reality. I then ruminate on them further and decide that these facts shouldn’t be, I want to try to change things, I realise that only part of what I want to change is under my control and the parts that I do control, I think ‘I’m too lazy and stupid to do that’. I end up feeling impotent, wretched and pathetic.
There is a flipside, however, I noticed it happening and can now act against that sneaky hate spiral. Preventing these thoughts from causing further damage. I’m just going to pause here and take a moment to feel good about that.
It seems like there is a lot of advice for when external factors are affecting your emotions but not a lot about when your feelings get in the way of doing what is right. This sometimes is something which makes me do the everything thing because, maybe I’m just not that good person if I can’t be bothered to put in the effort to put in the extra effort required to be good. But I suppose the excuse is ‘I’m only human’ and that I can always try again tomorrow. As long as I keep trying, I suppose that is the difference between good and bad.
But then good and bad isn’t an inherent trait of a person, it’s more the evaluation of their effects over time and, as Sirius says “the world isn’t split into good people and death eaters, we all have both light and dark in us”. I think the important takeaway from today’s task for me is to stop thinking as if your thoughts are as valid as real data.
I like to think that I’m an austere person. I’m unemployed and live with my parents. I don’t have much money, I don’t have to spend much money so I don’t spend much money. I like to think this would make today’s topic of Self-Discipline and Stoic Simplicity a cake-walk. Unfortunately, being mindful
of the force all of my actions means that I would have to say that the task is actually extremely difficult for me to succeed at.
To begin the day, I woke up late, as usual. I stay up late to try to make sure that I’ve done something with my day so I get up late and find that I’ve wasted half the day already. Which made the early
morning afternoon reflection particularly poignant. But I didn’t get to it until after I returned from my appointment at the Job Centre. Unfortunately this trip resulted in my visiting the 99p store to buy some Pringles and sweets.
When I return home, I read about how the whole of today was supposed to be about Stoic Simplicity and letting go of external desire for health and wealth. I immediately thought of my lack of funds and how I was very good at not spending much money because I don’t have it. I concluded that I was doing well on this front.
Thinking further into it. I realised that my laziness and decision to buy tasty treats constituted a fairly important failing of the stoic part of the simplicity. You see the difference between my austerity and the Stoic Simplicity I was meant to be striving for is that my austerity is controlled by the external pressures of economics and not by a self-discipline overcoming the desires I have.
I would suppose that the up side of this failing is that I realised it. It means that I am at least mindful of the reasoning behind my actions and how they are, or are not Stoic in nature. This is not me being stoic. This is me learning to be stoic.
Ever been played a game and then just screamed in indignation? “How on Earth could this have happened to ME?!” I was playing a well-known real-time strategy game last night and the battle was progressing well… until a disastrous charge, suffice to say my army routed and I lost the battle. I was enraged, the battle was mine, I should have won, why didn’t the enemy just die?
This morning, I realised it was time to begin the Stoic Week. An experiment run by members of Exeter University looking into how stoicism can be used or beneficial in the modern world. So off I went to the website and downloaded the handbook which was named after Epictetus’ Enchiridion…
Well, in a nutshell, one of the main things the handbook talks about is the importance of understanding what is in your control and what is not. The theme for today’s lunchtime activity is “What is in our Power?” and asks us to evaluate a situation in our lives using Stoic Mindfulness. If I’m a little fuzzy on the details here, it’s best if you go read the Handbook which you can download from the Stoic Week website.
Now the situation that I am going to use for this exercise is one that occurred before Stoic Week, however I think it’s more important to simply be able to practice this exercise than when the actual situation occurred and this example allows me to say what I want to on this blog.
So, back to the point, I got extremely frustrated by the battle not going my way and thus complained about the game mechanics “Why did those guys just break and run?” rather than assess the situation properly. What was actually in my control here? Well I decided what forces to take into the battle; how to direct them during the battle; and the decision to play this particular scenario in the first place.
What wasn’t in my control? The abilities and capabilities of the units (both friendly and enemy) in the battle and the terrain on the battlefield. I chose to take a force almost equal when I could have taken a larger force to be more sure of victory, I chose how to direct my forces and my plan failed. I could have chosen to learn about the capabilities of all the forces on the battle before engaging but I didn’t. These were ways in which I could have effected (sorry everyone who dislikes the use of effect as a verb) a different outcome.
But once the results were in, the only things in my control was my response to it. I chose to whinge and moan and to send a second force to finish off the enemy but the frustration stayed with me. The point I am making here is that a stoic attitude may be more conducive to a healthier gaming environment, especially in multiplayer games. Instead of hurling abuse at other players, or criticising the game mechanics, stoic players would instead be able to assess the results of games and their reactions to them and determine whether they are acting virtuously or are instead becoming angered at things outside of their control, or even blaming things outside of their control for things that are entirely up to them.
Stoic Week has also affected me in other ways, when this is published, it will be linked to on my Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Something I had avoided in the past for fear of criticism or friends being able to spot flaws in my reasoning. Stoicism says that people’s reactions to my blog are entirely out of my control. All that is in my control is what I choose to publish and how I react to people’s responses and if someone has something constructive to say, it will improve my blog and I should embrace that, not hide from it.
So I’ve been skiving off this blog for over a year now, my excuse would be that I’ve been busy sorting out applications trying to secure my first position, but that would be a Lie. I’ve been skiving off out of fear and dullness, fear of doing badly and dullness that is such a part of me that anything I do or make will be incredibly dull and anyone reading it will die in such a dull way that it will cause the lights to dim and the colour to be drained out of the world. Keep reading, I get less depressing after the second paragraph.
Dramatic hyperbole aside, my life after university is exactly what it was before only now with even less purpose. I have no goal, life drifts by occasionally nodding significantly at those around me and how much they’ve achieved and how much I have failed to achieve. Such is my comfortable little niche. I am back at my parents house, unemployed and comfortably playing video games and watching television letting the days slip by with nothing more than a futile hand wave.
This post is going to be my rebirth. I will begin posting again. However, instead of my previously stated goal of putting lots of work out, I am instead going to concentrate on the amount of work I put in. This, and my previous plan, is because I am a firm believer in the notion that ‘you get out what you put in’ and to get a good blog you need to do a lot of work on it. Previously, the way that I tried to ensure I put work in was to set a target of amount of work put out. This is not the same though. I could write a blog a day but if each post is basically a tweet and with the same amount of thought that goes into the average tweet, I am unlikely to improve my blogging skills.
With this in mind, my new plan is that I am going to write often and a lot. To ensure that I actually post what I write, I will allow only 3 revisions of posts not including making a draft post containing the seed of an idea for a post. This is to prevent me from eternally editing and giving it ‘one more edit’. So that’s my new plan. I’ll not have an exact schedule I’m just going to work on posts and publish them as I finish them. One new thing I may do however is writing posts about things I come across, for example SciShow did an episode a while back about Resurrection Biology, so called de-extinction, which to my mind, left out some pretty significant topics of discussion.
So that’s what I’ll be working on in future. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep this thing going and actually do something of significance with it. Honestly I’ll be happy if I make a few more posts that get people commenting about how wonderful it is that I could explain something that they were struggling with. I’d like to say that’s because I’m such a nice person and I want to help people but I think I know it’s more that I like stroking my ego. So, eight revisions in, I think this post is ready. I’ll set it to publish next Sunday, giving me a week to work on the post after it. That way it’s a more delayed process but will allow me to potentially get in front of the schedule and have multiple posts ready to publish one after another. Ha, yeah that’s a pleasant fiction.