“Men are disturbed not by the things which happen, but by the opinions about the things: for example, death is nothing terrible, for if it were, it would have seemed so to Socrates; for the opinion about death, that it is terrible, is the terrible thing. When then we are impeded or disturbed or grieved, let us never blame others, but ourselves, that is our opinions. It is the act of an ill-instructed man to blame others for his own bad condition; it is the act of one who has begun to be instructed, to lay the blame on himself; and of one whose instruction is completed, neither to blame another, nor himself.” — Epictetus; the Enchiridion
Do you tend to excuse your bad behavior because “something bad in your life happened?”
Epictetus was born into slavery 2000 years ago in the Roman Empire. He is writing from first-hand experience about having a difficult life. Negative events do not mean that you must be a negative person, and it also doesn’t mean that you should leave your virtues, values, and beliefs at the door.
If an event caused us to react in a specific way, wouldn’t we all always react the same way to the same event? And you know that’s not true. For example, we all respond to loss differently. We all respond differently to failure, to success, to love, to a break-up, and so on.
We need to recognize and internalize that it is not the event that creates the response. Instead, it is how we interpret the event, or as Epictetus puts it, our “opinion” of the event that determines everything.
Marcus Aurelius and Seneca say practically the same thing.
The emperor of Rome wrote:
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
This guy was the most powerful man in the world, over 2000 years ago. A lesson in leadership…
Seneca, too, wrote:
“The place one’s in, though, doesn’t make any contribution to peace of mind: it’s the spirit that makes everything agreeable to oneself. “
Take out your journal or a single piece of paper, and answer these questions:
Do you tend to victimize yourself?
Do you tend to blame others for bad things happening to you?
Do you often blame the situation you are in instead of focusing on your actions and reactions?
Do you react with your emotions first, then maybe later, your brain?
We need to redirect our focus, our point of awareness. Even if we are hurt, especially if we are hurt, we need to find a way back, in our mind and our soul, to what we can control. It might be a plan to fight. It might be taking a deep breath and letting go.
How is your response-ability? Your ability to respond to things and events in your life.
If you want peace of mind, self-love, and self-respect, you will have to nurture your inner trust.
Do you trust yourself in knowing that you can take an obstacle and turn it into an opportunity?
Do you trust yourself in your ability to respond to injustice with justice? Adversity with courage? Desperate times with hope? Ignorance with curiosity?