East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Stoic Week day 6: Resilience

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We go back to Marcus Aurelius again, and the guy is at it again with the following…

Be like the headland, on which the waves break constantly, which still stands firm, while the foaming waters are put to rest around it. ‘It is y bad luck that this has happened to me.’ On the contrary, say, ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without getting upset, neither crushed by the present nor afraid of the future.’ This kind of event could have happened to anyone, but not everyone would have borne it without getting upset.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.49

In the end, for the Stoics, it’s what we carry that counts – so if the outside world sucks, the important thing is that I am able to tap my own personal mental resources to weather the storm.

Once again I can relate to that a lot. And yet I find myself at odds with the practice of anticipating the hard times in order to prepare ourselves to face them.

I prefer not to entertain expectations – “happy those who expect the worst because their wait is not in vain”, as a character in a Lyon Sprague de Camp novel said, is a fun quote, but not a good everyday policy. And as I grow old I find myself frequently confronted by younger people that not only expect the worst, but that are actually convinced the worst is all there is, we should not aspire at nothing better, and then you die.

I do not doubt that this sort of pessimism is a way to defend ourselves, but it amounts, in the end, to building not resilience (the ability to bounce back when hit hard) but resignation (the ability to shrug when hit).

I prefer to use my past, and know, when the next hit falls, that I have taken equally hard hits before, and here I am. I do not anticipate adversity, I nurture the knowledge that adversity exists, and yet, still, I live.
John Carter trumps Marcus Aurelius.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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