“Regardless of what’s going on around you, make the best of what’s in your power, and take the rest as it occurs.” (Epictetus) – from Jackswinningwords.blogspot.com.
According to Jack’s comment, Epictetus believed that all of what happens around us is fate and thus out of our control. What is in our control is how we react to what is happening around us or to us. I have posted several missives on that topic here is the past. Today let’s look at the strategy of understanding what control you have over things and exercising good judgment in how you react.
TV news people love to rush into situations of stress or tragedy with the important question (at least to them), “How do you feel about that?” They hope to evoke an emotional reaction of some sort that will make good viewing – tears or anger or hate. They are after ratings more than news coverage, since TV news is now presented more as an entertainment segment than true news coverage.
While there may be no newsman rushing up to you with a microphone in hand, when life happens around you there is often an expectation (perhaps your own) that you will somehow react to what’s going on. Will you get angry about something that someone did, even if they really didn’t do it to you? Maybe they ran a stop sign or made an illegal turn. How does that affect you? If they didn’t almost hit you by doing that, why do you have any reaction to that at all? I tend to get a little peeved at people doing those things, mainly I suspect, because it shows a general lack of respect for the laws that we are all supposed to live under and that we generally all accept. Those are acts of contempt; of thumbing their noses at our laws and saying that they don’t have to follow them. It is somewhat offensive (at least to me).
But, those examples aside, the next best thing to do when things are occurring around you is to quickly assess which of them you have any control over or the power to change. Perhaps the only control you have is to control yourself; to control how you react to the situation. In recent rioting in Ferguson, Missouri not everyone joined in on the looting or destructive behavior. In fact most of the protesters decided to exercise control over themselves and not take part in those activities. They made the best of what was in their power to control.
The hard part sometimes is recognizing the difference between those things that we can control and those that are beyond our control. Allowing yourself to react to things beyond your control can quickly lead to frustration or worse. Since you cannot see a way to control things, you might be tempted, as the Ferguson rioters were, into taking retaliatory or destructive actions. Once you step onto the slippery slope it is all downhill into looting or burning or shooting or doing other stupid things. It usually ends badly and the consequences are made worse by the fact that one often is destroying the very things that are needed around them – relationships or the stores and merchants that make a neighborhood viable.
Some people have the ability to ignore much of what is happening around them; things to which other might react. They may be totally oblivious, but more likely they are actually making quickly, sub-conscious decisions on the question, “What does that have to do with me?” If they decide that what just happened really has no real direct impact on them they just ignore it, even if it was aimed at them. That would have been a better strategy for the Tigers relief pitcher who let booing from the home town crowd get to him. He reacted poorly to the events going on around him, rather than just ignoring the booing. After all, people booing posed no real threat to him.
I often run into people who say things like “he/she knows all of the buttons to push to get me mad”. What’s interesting about that is that the person recognizes that someone else is able to control them and their reactions through some simple acts or words, yet they seem unable to take back control. Somehow they are really admitting that they are an accessory to this situation; that they are allowing that to happen, instead of exercising restraint and self-control. They could stop that cycle of actions and reaction any time that they really wanted to. Maybe they enjoy getting mad at that other person.
How do you react to the things going on around you? Do you allow the events to control you or do you stay in command of the only part that you have complete control over – your reaction? If you are the sort of person that others may say of, “He flies off the handle a lot”, then you need to be particularly aware of and careful of your reactions to things. The old saw of counting to ten before you react may be especially useful for you (you may need to count even higher).
So, be aware of the things going on around you; but, be even more aware of how you are choosing to react to them. I am reminded of that line from the poem Invictus that was used in the Nelson Mandela book and movie as representing good advice – I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul. You are only the captain of your soul if you stay at the helm. Don’t let event or others take the helm of your fate.