Part of my morning routine includes reading a page from the book ‘The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom’. For each day of the year, it contains a stoic quote, translated by Stephen Hanselman, paired with a brief explanation from the author, Ryan Holiday.
The below passage is the March 13th mediation.
“Whenever you find yourself blaming providence, turn it around in your mind and you will see that what has happened is in keeping with reason.”
– Epictetus, Discourses, 3.17.1
Part of the reason we fight abasing the things that happen is that we’re so focused on our plan that we forget that there might be a bigger plan we don’t know about. It is not the case that plenty of times something we thought was a disaster turned out to be, with the passage of time, a lucky break? We also forget that we’re not the only people who matter and that our loss might be someone else’s gain.
This sense of being wronged is a simple awareness problem. We need to remember that all things are guided by reason – but that it is a vast and universal reason that we cannot always see. That the surprise hurricane was the result of a butterfly flapping its wings a hemisphere away or that misfortune we have experienced is simply the prelude to a pleasant and enviable future.
The one thing that you wanted to happen will often become the best thing that never happened.
This can be a brutal truth to learn through experience, but one that is best learnt young.
I like to think of things from a macro perspective, to stop myself getting emotional about things happening from a micro one.
Another take on this could be presented as the 5×5 rule:
“If it’s not going matter in 5 years, don’t spend more than 5 minutes being upset by it.”
Oftentimes that thing causing us so much upset isn’t going to matter tomorrow, let alone five years from now.
From this, we can learn that much of our anger in life is caused by a perspective problem.
Think about how you would react if the girl at the Starbucks drive-thru serves you the wrong coffee, or if a guy cuts you off in traffic on your way to work as you’re already running late.
If you knew that the girl working at Starbucks lost her parents young and is working three jobs to put herself through college while looking after her baby brother, not to mention that the Starbucks branch is severely understaffed, with her left to take care of both the drive-thru and walk-in customers.
Would that change how you reacted to receiving the wrong coffee?
Remember the guy that cut you off on your way to work? He’s just found out that his daughter has contracted a rare disease and is rushing home to be with his family on what is going to be one of the worse days of his life.
Would that change how you reacted to being cut off on your way to work?
Somehow we feel offended or wronged by an accident or poor judgment on the part of another human when their intentions were nothing of the sort. A change in perspective will allow you to see life in a different light, and react accordingly to the situations that you are presented with.
To end, I’d like to play devil’s advocate. I do believe that it would be naive for anyone to think that this line of thinking could be applied to absolutely every hardship one comes up against in their life. Almost certainly many of us will face genuinely devastating situations that will not contain any good, nor in the long run, have affected our lives in a positive manner. But perhaps, we should always remind ourselves of that bigger plan at work, and ensure that we possess the acute awareness required to view situations with an open mind and without poor judgement.