I wrote this article about three miscellaneous themes we encounter in life. Namely, goal directed behaviour (then I will be happy), fame and being at the receiving end of insults. In addition with some stoic psychology thrown in the mix the purpose is to raise awareness and gain greater understanding of these themes so that we gain apathia or freedom from afflictive emotions (pathos).
Goal Directed Behaviour
Just like a Roman senator who thinks “when my service to Rome is finished I will retire to my countryside villa, then I will be happy” the modern individual thinks “When I win the lottery, then I will be happy!” or ‘When I have finally moved into that English country home, then I will be happy’ In regards to seeking happiness nothing has changed for thousands of years!
‘When I achieve this then I will be happy’ In the broadest brush, this is how I think most people think sub-consciously in relation to planned activities. Put in another way, this is goal directed behaviour and what is the goal? It is satisfaction, stimulation and excitement. We may live one pleasant experience, take a fondness to it and then seek to perfect it by attempting to live it again and again plus liberally adding the satisfaction, stimulation and excitement. Metaphorically speaking, we’re scaling to the summit of mount pleasure seeking for something that does not last. Examples? look around you! People going to the cinema, latest consumer goods fresh from the shelf, visiting different cultures on holiday, drinking to inebriation with colleagues after work on weekends pursuing all these rituals to collect new experiences; for the purpose of getting a rush of those feel good chemicals transmitting from synapse to synapse in the brain!
When the goal is achieved is it all ‘live happily ever after’ like in the fairy tale books?
If you are familiar to the Stoic perspective, you will know, that after when the hero and the princess ride off up the hill yonder towards the sunset, that’s when all the arguments and relationship troubles start. There is always a pinnacle to all celebration at which looking from the precipice it’s only downhill from there.
We look again at satisfaction, stimulation and excitement, to reiterate, look how long that lasts! stimulation and excitement are momentary once the deed is done.
Seneca tells it like it is:
“Pleasure dies at the very moment it charms us most. It fades away as soon as its first impulse is over”
How long do these pleasurable impulses last? Maybe hours or days? The high achieved soon drops down low and then it all culminates in a crash. We then seek to live again the experience or find new ones. All these experiences come bound, on the one hand, with positive states of mind and, on the other, they do not last! That’s because it is only satisfaction, stimulation and excitement! Stop and think about this and realise that this is unreliable for long term happiness, because it is based on conditions that must be achieved which are by nature impermanent.
If one activity granted us long term happiness, then logically more and more of it would make us more and more happy. Can we say eating a happy meal at McDonald’s one after another gives us greater happiness? It may give you a greater waistline but not greater happiness only satisfaction and that satisfaction has a limit, the limit being the capacity of your stomach. Yet we continue to feverishly seek more different activities or material wealth because it is human nature to seek out new experiences.
Stoicism recommends that we understand the nature of the mind and its psychology and in this case of the impermanence of pleasure or impulsive satisfaction, (not happiness), given this we can appreciate both the activity and our mind prepared by life philosophy to not get attached to a goal that does not deliver long-term happiness.
People are known to have the desire to be someone important within the nation or internationally whatever type of fame it is, it all comes in varying forms from taking on the role of a highly notorious celebrity or a successful capitalist running a multinational corporation down to what is more commonly achievable as a role of lower fame like a manager or local singer who is only known well, locally. However, it does not land in your lap… unless you inherit it (Prince George). For most of us, attainment of fame and importance comes with trials packaged with gauntlets of difficulty, stress and virtuous effort on your part.
To get fame you have to curry favour from others which then means that you are too busy pleasing people to allow yourself time to please yourself. Moreover, you create a commitment that forgoes other things that you could be doing instead. The pursuit of fame takes up all the time slots, freedom is sacrificed for the investment of a long-term goal, fame.
Fame means being known to large numbers of people right? People are also opinionated creatures and they may disapprove of you and write nasty comments about you in newspapers and vis-versa you may also be revered and praised. So if you crave fame, the stoic advice is that you better prepare to start cherishing the positives more than the negatives because you will not be able to please everyone!
The Stoic attitude, especially from Epictetus, towards fame, status and the craving for approval is one word; indifference. Indifference to social status because it causes the mind to lean on a dependence on something which is not entirely in our control as it is something we only have partial control over since this endeavour always comes with its own set of risks.
Tips on “how do I deal with being insulted and slandered?”
Life philosophy ideally deals with all situations that may happen to us in life. It gives strategies in preparation to being on the receiving end of verbal insults and slander. Here are various strategies you can adopt in such events.
Listen like a stone!
Next time you are insulted whether the offending comments are expected or unexpected take the frame of mind of a stone! I’ve never read that we should tolerate insults until I read Epictetus, Personally I would take the Diogenes of Sinope approach and still insult but not listen to the comebacks like a stone at the same time. Anyway, Epictetus says it like it is:
“what does it mean to be slandered? Stand by a stone and slander it: what effect will you produce? If a man then listens like a stone, what advantage has the slanderer? But if the slanderer has the weakness of him that he slanders to work upon, then he does achieve something.”
It’s an age-old advice to ‘ignore them’ and ‘sticks and stones’ and so on. However take to listening like a marble statue and know that the slanderer is not profiting in his endeavours.
Adopt the epicurean attitude
Epicurean philosophy guest stars, well, what can a mostly metaphysical philosophy like this help in dealing with insults? Here’s a stab, Imagine a scenario where you’re at the receiving end of insults, there is a person in front of you bellowing these insults in your general direction. So what happens? I would advise to adopt the epicurean attitude. View the person for what they are as merely a pattern of atoms blowing agitated layers of air against another pattern of atoms that is yourself dispassionately reducing them to what they are as a pile of atoms is a way of disempowering their influence in disrupting your peace of mind.
If you raise an eye brow at this then you’ve just tasted Epicurean philosophy where everything is reduced to an atomic perspective of things. Have fun pondering what part of the person is really insulting you as you drift from the school of life philosophy into metaphysics!
Why is a statement of fact an insult?
The Human body, always will have its imperfections whether it’s baldness, wrinkles, skin infections etc. And problems in social life too of course! Anything whether it’s trivial or glaringly conspicuous can be used as a weapon against you. So Stoicism says if they are facts and the insults are really a statement of a fact then should we really get offended?
Think of a scenario where you bumped your head accidentally and a visible bruise bloomed thereafter on the side of your forehead. You go to work next day and a colleague says ‘you have a bruise’ and another calls you ‘bruise face’ or something else of superior wit of making fun of the fact you have a bruise on the side of you forehead. What you do is pause… just pause, and think why is it an insult to state an observed fact? If we treat the comment as a statement of a fact rather than an intentional attempt at an insult then there is no need for our mind to be disturbed by it.
Most Important is The approval of Mind
It is not the insult in itself, but the attributed meaning your mind gives to it that makes the insult take a stab at your peace of mind, in other words, it is your mind’s reaction that approves the anger, feelings of harm and annoyance that winds you up. What also gives an insult its power is if we believe it to be a bad truth about ourselves or something we care about. I think knowing this key concept will assist us very much in our endeavour to develop formidable, disciplined, flexible and minds of freedom from afflictive emotions (pathos).
Irvine, A Guide To The Good Life: