Things happen — sometimes planned, sometimes unplanned. According to several philosophers, making the best of jubilation and tragedy is essential to a life of equanimity, given the inevitability of both.
Nietzsche put it this way in The Gay Science:
I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful.
Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.
Of course, Nietzche didn’t live every day as he tried to, but he offers a helpful description of a much-needed way of achieving a well-balanced life. This man understood all kinds of joys and sorrows would be unexpected, haphazard, and absurd.
The German philosopher suggests we come to terms with whatever happens to us — the fluctuating experience of our human life no matter what. Positives and negatives come close to being guaranteed in any long lifetime.
Dean Martin’s rendition of That’s Amore (Italian for romantic love) reminds us that chance meetings often drive affairs of the heart. Amor (Latin) also means love but applies to many things, including fate, as in the expression Amor Fati or love of fate.
That is what Nietzche expresses: accepting the nature of life as a first signpost to the emotional overcoming and acceptance of disappointment, failure, and unfairness.
The Stoic philosophers additionally referred to the limits of what we can change and must concede. They believed our brief lifespan gives us a silent push to make the best use of our finite opportunities and a reason for adherence to the highest values.
Professor Luke Timothy Johnson said the following about the difference between the worldview of a man like Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic “philosopher/king” of second-century Rome, and our way of thinking about “the good life:”
Marcus Aurelius was obsessed by the transitory character of all existent things. We (by contrast) take our institutions for granted. We think that life is long. We assume that we should be healthy.
Marcus Aurelius spurned pleasure and sought duty. We are driven by the notions of feeling good, and the pursuit of happiness is often identified with the pursuit of pleasure. Marcus Aurelius identified freedom as a call to virtue and duty, whereas in present day America, we often think of freedom as the most radical form of individualism and doing what we like.
The writing of the Englishman Wordsworth, too, reminds us to make the best use of our abilities in worthwhile actions:
The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers …
Camus, the French writer, Existentialist, and political activist, goes beyond the conventional notion of acceptance in The Myth of Sisyphus. His title character, a figure from Greek mythology, was a man in extreme distress who achieved equanimity, triumph, and nobility despite it.
The gods condemned Sisyphus to spend the rest of his life pushing a large rock up a tall hill. Of course, the boulder rolled down each time, requiring him to walk down and repeat the meaningless act.*
In the view of Camus, this man does not rage against the gods for his misfortune nor forever despair at his sentence to such a life. “His fate belongs to him” to the extent he can look at it for what it is. This target of the gods has to realize “there is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night.”
In taking on the job required of him as his own, “Sisyphus knows himself to be the master of his days.” The creative sufferer buys into what is inescapable.
The last line of the writer’s essay reads, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Captives in war, like Vice Admiral James Stockdale, relied on the teaching of the ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus when imprisoned and tortured during the Vietnam conflict. The brave officer thereby found a way to endure seven years of captivity.
The following is from Wikipedia:
James C. Collins related a conversation he had with Stockdale regarding his coping strategy during his period in the Vietnamese prison. When Collins asked which prisoners didn’t make it out of Vietnam, Stockdale replied:
Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go.
And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again.And they died of a broken heart.
This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.
Collins called this the Stockdale Paradox.
The idea of finding solace in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” so-called by the U.S. prisoners who inhabited and mocked it, also seems absurd. Yet the message is affirmative: the experience could be endured, the awfulness would cease, and life would go on.
Think of chronic pain, another matter of endurance, as comprised of two parts.
The first is the physical affliction itself, the signals your body sends to you from the site of the injury. The second part, however, is where your agency — your control — can be found, depending on what you do with the “idea” of suffering.
Suppose you focus forever on your distress, worry it will intensify, think how unfair it is, rage at what caused it, and despair at what you have lost. In that event, your psychological state and unhappiness will grow.
Instead, imagine you learn to meditate and calm your mind, concentrate on your breathing, engage in mind-capturing tasks, or distract yourself with T.V., computer games, and other pastimes.
In that case, the possibility exists of overcoming a significant aspect of your misfortune.
One more thing. In your attempt to understand Stoicism, realize they did not dismiss the need for grieving. Rather, they added something to it.
I am not suggesting you or I share the fortitude of either the mythic Greek or the heroic Congressional Medal of Honor winner Stockdale. At times pain triumphed even for the Stoics.
I have tried to offer an awareness of an uncommon way to approach the act of living and consider whether it may include something both true and worthy. If you think it might, perhaps it will change your life.
*Please do not confuse the legendary Sisyphus and his punishment with the origin of “Rock and Roll.” I hope you get the pun. Imagine Sisyphus laughing from the hilltop.
The three images below the youtube video are all of the same Amor Fati Coin, available from the Stoic Store U.K. and easily found online. I have no financial or other involvement with this product or those who manufacture and sell it.
Presumably, it is used by some of those attached to Stoic philosophy as a reminder to seek the love of fate.
I laughed at the pun at poor Sisyphus. I forgot everything I learned in ethics, a philosophy course. There were different ways of perceiving what was ethical, depending on the philosophy. But I haven’t advanced in philosophy to learn about other philosophers you have mentioned. I now want to go back to the beginning and start all over again. LOL.
I love the song you shared. But when juxtaposed to suffering, I can only imagine a horror film comprising either a toxic woman or toxic man trapping their mate (whether it be a heterosexual relationship or otherwise). I suppose one can love and suffer at the same time.
I now consider POWs, instead of toxic romantic relationships. I can’t imagine what POWs must feel when suffering at the hands of the enemy, but I do love it when they are released and sent back to the USA. I’m thinking of those two veterans who went to Ukraine to assist them in the war against Russia. I’m also thinking about our past POWs who survived or didn’t. Their training, whether they be military or clandestine (for special ops or the CIA or some other branch of our great Federal Government), helped them to endure suffering and be proud of the sacrifices they are making for their love of our country and/or our allies’ countries (as in WWII, those volunteering to assist Ukraine). It takes much love to sacrifice all or most when volunteering to enter into war, as well as to defend a nation (and sometimes the world).
It also takes much courage for police officers, firefighters, sometimes paramedics, and sometimes healthcare workers to risk their lives daily, given their high-risk jobs. I’m sure they will endure suffering, but their rewards will be great. Whether in the military or in law enforcement, recognition, medals, disability compensation, pensions, and many other benefits will be earned, should one suffer from the consequences of serving their government.
But then there are those who aren’t as recognized, or who are shunned by society for disinformation. I wonder if they couldn’t endure their suffering after their services, which is why the rates of suicide among both veterans and law enforcement have been quite high, when compared to the rest of the population.
Additionally, those who are suffering from non-governmental means (perhaps by the choices they made in the past (e.g., substance abuse, engaging in criminal activity, engaging in too many life-threatening risks, poor diet, poor self-care), or perhaps by being a victim of childhood and/or adulthood traumas) may also feel like their suffering lacks any rewards for living. Society tends to shun the mentally and physically disabled, those with addictions, those with a criminal history, and/or those who were the victims of crimes, unlawful acts (which is differentiated from crimes), and/or legal yet harmful disinformation campaigns. Perhaps this is why there are many veterans, former or disabled police, and victims/survivors who struggle with PTSD, depression, and suicidal ideation/attempts. They can’t imagine “happy Sisyphus.” They lost focus on the goal, thus their suffering had no point anymore – no purpose.
How can stoicism help out people who struggle with a lost sense of purpose? It would seem that philosophy, in general, has its limits, including stoicism. Is there a way to find a new purpose in suffering? Perhaps like becoming an advocate for change in society, to prevent what happened to the victims who have suffered before us? Or perhaps becoming a peer mentor, so that others aren’t suffering alone. With those examples, one can still employ some of the benefits of stoicism while still grieving, but now with the purposes of bettering the world through justice and comforting others. I wonder if this is why some people become psychologists, therapists, or professionals in healing fields, too.
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You’ve made some excellent points and the questions you bring up seem to be yet unanswered by all of us, except for maybe a few who have made their peace with suffering.
I struggled with chronic Shingles off and on, mostly on, for 10 years. I worked hard to change my thoughts to learn to become more positive, and I worked hard to improve my immune system. Yes, those efforts paid off tremendously.
Changing my thoughts to think and speak positively to myself ad to others was very challenging, but it ended up benefitting my mental and physical health. Part of teaching ourselves to develop this new way is learning to accept ourselves, our situations without judging ourselves and others, to be able to release the old poisons.
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Thank you so much for replying.
I’m so sorry you struggle with shingles off and on. I had chickenpox when I was a child, and I’m terrified of getting shingles. They won’t allow me to get the vaccine until I’m 50 (I’m 48 now), and my mom and other family members have had shingles. My mom had it in her eye.
My other family members struggle with things like diverticulitis, Chron’s disease (spelling?), lupus, and skin cancer – all of which land them in hospitals, emergency rooms, and/or at home in pain. I try not to compare my own issues with theirs, but I can’t imagine that pain. I can’t imagine the pain of shingles either. I’m so sorry you deal with that.
But I’m glad that speaking positively has helped you both physically and mentally. I try to stay positive, use positive self-affirmations, and use distraction as a tool to help me deal with pain, trauma triggers, fear, nightmares, incontinence, obesity from hypothyroidism, etc. But it’s not always easy remaining positive. There are times when I am really triggered or struggling with things. Most of my issues are mental, but I do have some chronic conditions. I try not to do the upward or downward comparisons, since I personally don’t feel right when others have done that to me. Instead, I try to just be honest with my own fears, and I try to hold space for others who are suffering who need an ear to listen to them, or for others who care enough to hear me lament when I am truly struggling.
I’ve read about studies on people using self-hypnosis for pain management (I think Dr. David Spiegel at Stanford has done research on cancer patients). I’ve also read about studies on social support, and how that can help attenuate the effects of trauma, though I’m not sure if that helps with suffering from chronic conditions, disabilities, pain, etc. In terms of the elderly in nursing homes, social support can help when the support is consistent. But researchers have found that if the support is inconsistent (such as short-term from a volunteer group), the patients had increased mortality, which wasn’t the intended outcome. So that tells me that there are limits to even social support.
Also, for social support to work, the person in need of social support would also need some social skills to maintain those relationships. Otherwise, the social support wouldn’t be beneficial for either party, according to research. So learning to be positive with others can, in turn, help us and the relationship. I just haven’t done any readings in the past on how that can help with chronic conditions, and those who suffer from them. But I can imagine that it could.
I just feel for the people who struggle with the inability to feel pleasure, such as those with anhedonia or other similar conditions. Their suffering is something I can’t even imagine. At least with self-hypnosis, there’s some degree of pleasure. As a person who has a dissociative disorder, I think that dissociation has helped me deal with suffering, pain, trauma, and many other things. But I think it takes the ability to feel pleasure in order for it to be utilized. I can’t imagine not being able to feel pleasure at all.
Dr. Stein’s blogs give me a lot to think about. I’m disabled, but I like to think – that is, when I’m not dealing with chronic fatigue syndrome or other issues.
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Wow! That’s a long list of pain issues. I agree, I do not compare myself to others when it comes to pain, for when it is chronic one’s sleep suffers because it is difficult to sleep peacefully when in pain. Chronic sleep deprivation only adds to the body’s ails. Yes, I’m grateful for learning about how negative thinking and talk to ourselves has proven to increase people’s pain levels, even their mortality rates, while those who engage in positive thoughts, especially toward themselves have been shown to improve health conditions. Our positivity affects our immune systems, and our bodies register angry or hateful thoughts to ourselves as blows against the body, and this affects our immune systems. One of the more challenging steps I had to learn was to practice suspending judgement of myself. I was surprised by how much better I felt physically when I did this, so I endeavored to do more. It really is a whole process.
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I am guilty of judging myself too harshly. I’m still learning how to be more positive that way, too. Thank you for your replies! 🙂 I don’t feel so alone in all this. This may sound oxymoronic, but It’s hard to be positive sometimes. You would think positive would be easy. I’m not sure why being negative seems easier, LOL.
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I get it. Learning to think more positively was a huge task, but it is doable if we just keep trying to do baby steps. (I’m not talking about the toxic positivity that seems to swirl around, but learning to be realistic and positive, for being completely negative towards ourselves isn’t necessarily reality, but a distortion we have internalized.
I discovered that because I had internalized all the lies I had been told, either verbally about myself, or by how I had been mistreated, my inner tapes were dark and negative. It was a process to release those old lies and keep saying “You no longer define me or belong to me. I release you.” This allowed me to move beyond my anger of feeling that the people who were supposed to love and care for me had betrayed me with how they chose to externalize all the garbage that was churning inside of them.
Practicing suspending judgement of myself helped me, because little by little I saw that my unkind and hurtful phrases to myself were extensions of the abuse I had internalized. Slowly, very slowly I found I could start to say gentle, kind things to myself and not grimace or reject it.
I discovered through this journey that my body had internalized all my emotional and mental pain and was echoing it with amplified physical pain. As I worked through my mental garbage piles I had created in my mind, I found my immune system was responding by getting stronger, and my pain was diminishing. I know it sounds very strange, but our bodies apparently “bank” our earlier emotional pains and store it, sometimes later manifesting years later as physical pain. We can slowly rewire our brains over time, and the old negative mental go-to’s gradually get replaced with our new tools.
It definitely is a process. Baby steps are best. They are the most manageable I found!
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An extraordinary and generous response, Tamara. I tip my hat (and I do wear fedoras)!
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Dr. Stein, thank you. I don’t want to step on your toes at all here. I share my process freely with folks, and sometimes just knowing that someone has walked in our footsteps, albeit a few steps ahead of us, can help to make a world of difference. I know that was true for me. I derived so much strength from others, just knowing they had slain the same emotional dragons.
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Yes, too few of those who are described by Professor Johnson (in contrasting Marcus with the commonly accepted version of the good life) transform ourselves in the way you have done.
Your words on the necessity of acceptance and dealing with a chronic illness are both wise and representative of a heroic stance toward the hand that life dealt you. Most of the rest of us are hard pressed to do so well, myself included.
Be well, Tamara.
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*sigh* (or laugh) We never realize that we’re one of the exceptions to the rule unless someone points it out. I keep sharing the path I found in the hopes that others can find it too. I know it’s super hard, I gutted it out all the way; here’s hoping that I could offer a glimmer of hope to someone else.
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Glad to hear you got the pun. I can address only a bit of what you wrote. Yes, philosophy has its limits, but what doesn’t?
It is important, I think, for all blog readers who find interest in a person’s posts, to consult primary sources. That is, the classic works by, in this case, the Roman Stoics. They otherwise risk thinking they have a complete sense of what a piece of less than 1000 works can provide. I’d suggest Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations” as the place to start. It can be read in very small chunks and understood as a book to remind himself of various ideas and practices.
As to purpose, for someone who is disabled, it might be growing a plant, taking a walk, learning something new, etc. None of it has to be grand.
As always, thank you for your thoughts, Dragon Fly.
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Thank you, Dr. Stein! I didn’t know what the classics were, but what you said makes sense! I do what I can in my new disabled life. I’m not always at peace about it, but I try.
Lots of food for thought, Dr. Stein. I learned growing up in Guyana to celebrate the good times and to do what has to be done when disaster comes my way. In those early years under British colonial rule, the local population did not have much in terms of wealth, but we made every good thing count.
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A difficult lesson that led to wisdom uncommon in our country. Thank you, Rosaliene.
“Acceptance”, “coming to terms”, “letting go”, and other words/phrases such as these, often used by therapists, sound great in theory but achieving any of them seems as difficult to me as the task of Sisphus.
My question is “How?” I struggle against acceptance of unacceptable things (at least those that I deem unacceptable), as for coming to terms or letting go, I’m not even sure I understand the concept. Whatever one’s situation and existing problems in life, when you’re going through it you have no choice but to keep going and “acceptance” isn’t really a choice. “Acceptance” seems more like giving up and resigning yourself to whatever misery you are facing. You can’t step outside yourself and say “that’s enough, I’m done” because it won’t end any of the issues at hand just because you no longer want to deal with them.
I can tell myself to just “accept” or “let go” and I can pretend it makes things better, but the reality is there’s no way my mind allows those things without a constant struggle against it. So how can a person push all opposing voices in their head aside to truly “accept” and live with unpleasant situations? How do you “let go” when your mind simply will not? How do you “accept” when everything inside you is raging against acceptance?
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(((Safe hugs, Brewdun))) When I’m in a terrible place, I feel just as you described. I tend to think that I’m forced into accepting that which is traumatic, stressful, dehumanizing, etc. I consider things like ongoing, continuous traumatic stress (the kind that isn’t in the past, but very much present): ongoing racial traumas, ongoing medical traumas, ongoing systemic/structural violence against minorities (the poor, the elderly, racial minorities, LGBTQ+, women, etc.), living in poverty, traumatic loss (loss of loved ones, loss of career, loss of health, loss of a home due to natural disasters, loss of reputation due to disinformation campaigns or rumors being spread, etc.). Many things like that are seemingly out of our control and thus forced upon us to “accept,” when all we wish for is escape, equity, fairness, comfort, etc.
But for some fortunate people like myself, I was able to find resources that helped me out of certain financial hardships, etc. I was also able to find some healthcare (though still not as good as more affluent others). But even with all that, the traumatic memories of the past coupled with the ongoing traumas of today linger.
I wonder how can we simply accept this?
Many people who are educated have money, or were brilliant enough to win scholarships. For the mass majority of people with average IQs, less money, disabilities, minority status, etc., we aren’t as privileged to understanding, and thus feeling comforted by, philosophy. We see that as comfort for those in power, comfort for those who were born white or white-passing in affluent countries, those who are without many traumas and stressors, to help them through daily stressors, or even certain traumas. But resources for them are easily attainable. It’s not always easy for the poor, certain minorities, lonely people, certain disabled persons, and certain elderly persons to find those resources.
What helps when we can’t accept systemic/structural violence? War, voting, advocacy, protests, spreading awareness, etc. Criminals (or rather, the accused, or in other terms, the victimizers) still have more rights than victims. Minorities by race, gender, sexual orientation, and wealth are still discriminated against by mainstream society. Certain minorities are more prone to hate attacks and violence than others. Certain people are stuck in a web of traumatic polyvictimization – in childhood and in adulthood, such as being a victim of domestic violence, non-domestic intimate partner violence, stalking, workplace bullying, military sexual trauma, childhood sexual abuse, human trafficking, neighborhood violence, racial microaggressions, etc. Their way of accepting what is is (a) acknowledging what is there and (b) fighting the forces against them – out of mere survival.
What helps when we can’t accept things like terminal illnesses (e.g., cancer, complications with Covid-19) or chronic PTSD (lifetime trauma triggers, fears, nightmares)? Comfort, finding safety objects to ease the mental or physical pain (e.g., a stuffed animal like a teddy bear, using artwork, using music), adaptive coping mechanisms, medication, allies, advocates for victims rights, awareness about ongoing preventable traumas, lawsuits against medical malpractice, preventative medicine (e.g., vaccinations, wearing masks, social distancing, better air quality indoors), funding research, and positive/healthy social support (that is validating, comforting, instrumental in our treatments – such as with psychotherapy and medicine, etc.).
What helps when we can’t accept things like financial challenges, poverty, etc.? Social programs that offer resources to the working poor and otherwise, family that helps pool resources together so that everyone can afford a better quality of life, advocacy, awareness, protests, taxes that help fund these social programs, education that brings about more awareness, better economists that are balanced in politics or nonpartisan, etc.
What helps when we’re struggling with multiple areas in life (i.e., our quality of life is poor in terms of our physical health, social health, financial health, and mental health)? Resources, advocacy, protests, voting, spreading awareness, etc.
Not every answer to every problem concerns an internal locus of control. There is also a need for external locus of responsibility. Individuals and society have responsibilities in life. What individuals do affect society, and what society does affect individuals. There are flaws in total individualism and total collectivism, two polarized opposites, it would seem. We can’t be happy or find solutions to our problems by being solely reactive, based on our biased extremes to either put all the responsibility on ourselves or all of the responsibility on others. And sometimes there isn’t an easy answer as to who exactly is responsible. But this need to survive may or may not remain, depending on how suicidal one is.
Balance is key, in my humble opinion. Balance between politics, solutions, our emotions vs. logic, etc. You can be reactive to things that harm us or others around us, and you can also be proactive. Being solely reactive (focused on how we feel about something) isn’t helpful, which is where being proactive comes in. Sisyphus was trying to be proactive, as opposed to solely emotionally reactive. Sisyphus accepted his life challenge, and so he fought and fought, even though his proactiveness seemingly failed each time, when looking at that through a particular lens. Some people – especially those who are prone to suicidal ideation – will simply give up. Some have given up. Capitol police officers whose traumas and loss of dignity and respect as officers defending our nation’s capitol took their own lives. People who have lost their sense of health, such as the father of modern policing, Vollmer, took his own life when he found out he had cancer, in addition to the struggles of Parkinson’s disease (not directly from the perils of policing). But others with cancer, Parkinson’s disease (such as Michael J. Fox), and other issues, will try to fight for solutions toward their survival and continued quality of life. Some have the means, whereas others do not. Some are able to balance the solutions with their emotions, whereas others are not – whether others be like Sisyphus and ignore their emotions, or others succumb to their giving up via suicide at the other end of the extreme. Somewhere in the middle is acknowledging the pain, the traumas, the ongoing stressors, the need for positive change, the need for advocacy, the need for better policies, the need for awareness, the need for better social support, the need for better resources for minorities, and a blending of emotional reactions with proactive solution-seeking. –This balance is where I find it challenging to find any philosophy to embrace.
You can accept what you can control, but you need not accept the injustices of the world, even though they continuously exist. Wars and suicides are based on fighting back in some way – either by fighting an enemy (seen or unseen), or by fighting oneself in this world. Sadly, wars and suicides don’t help those who remain alive, survivors, and in need of making the world a better place. Perhaps wars will eventually end when solutions are finally won, or wars will end with continuous suffering, such as what we culturally perceive as Americans when looking at what is going on in Afghanistan and elsewhere. But we all hold certain biases as to what is good or bad, what is healthy or not. Philosophy also holds such biases, IMHO. So what is true? That what we ourselves believe is true, or the existential nature for which we learn to survive in this world – we learn to accept what is going on without fully accepting it. We learn to accept the reality of what is going on while not accepting the practices that are going on. We learn to survive by not accepting some things, but accepting our responsibility in fighting those things – whether it be through medicine or votes, safety coping mechanisms or protests.
That’s how I see that, but that’s my own individualized truth. My truth my differ drastically from one person to the next, one culture to the next, one political affiliation to the next, one race to the next, one gender to the next, one age to the next, one ability to the next.
May you be comforted in knowing that you’re not alone in the struggle with this. (((Safe thoughts and hugs))). Hang in there, my online friend.
Neither the Stoic philosophers of antiquity, nor any good therapist, would claim the task of acceptance and other elements of change are easy. Indeed, most of the bravest people I met came to me for assistance and I often learned a great deal from them.
When I say “accepting the terms of life,” I’m referring to quite a number of things: acceptance of defeats, unfairnesses, betrayals, disappointments, diseases, aging, heartbreaks, etc. And now, living in a world we humans are physically destroying unless we speed up our learning curve.
Psychotherapy is recommended, though this also requires uncomfortable change.
Past that, as I said to Dragon Fly, one must take a modest approach to all of this. I would remind myself as often as I can that the past unfairnesses and other injuries or mistakes we make cannot be changed. We have control only in how we address them. To think about them over and over is to be punished eternally, rather like Sisyphus.
Unlike Sisyphus, I hope, those of us who aren’t damned by his task, have the possibility to make friends, seek useful (even if small and pleasurable activities), benefit from the entertainments found on tv, movies, and other things.
Those efforts have the potential to remove one from whatever presses down, at least for a time. We may not be able to push everything away, but we can still do good in the world (as perhaps you already are) Brewdun.
As you’ve seen in the old Hebrew words I’ve quoted, every person’s job is to make an effort, small or great, to repair the world. Perhaps you already are. Their is value in that and the value is in you, not in trying to defeat your own efforts at acceptance.
Small steps are how we start, in therapy or out.
I find another way to cope is to not take everything so seriously. Laughing at fate is still laughing, isn’t it?
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Joan, I like laughter! Sometimes I use laughter as a distraction to my emotional reactions, my pain, my seemingly impossible situations. Laugher is yet another emotion, so it isn’t necessarily being proactive or solution-based. But is is a relatively positive emotion, when compared with the negative emotions like sadness and anger.
As you say Joan, and as the representation Camus gives us of Sisyphus, to laugh. If faced with tragedy, we must first know our misfortune for what it is and reckon with it, often in grieving. Laughter usually comes later, unless one can look a very large part of the world, as absurd. In that case, of course, one might never stop laughing!
Wow – there is so much depth and content in this post. I love Neitzche’s desire not to fight ugliness but wish to “some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.” And I can relate to Stockdale’s description of optimists – in a different context, it was what was hard for me about the pandemic because I repeatedly thought it would be over in 6 weeks.
The overall idea to stay calm and find joy in what befalls us – a truly different way of approaching things but one that as you say adds something to grief, not takes it away. Great post and food for thought.
And I’m laughing about rock and roll too! 🙂
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Thanks, Wynne. Glad you got the joke, too. The idea Nietzche represents is, in effect, the only thing we can sometimes do to deal with our imperfect world.
With only a few exceptions, raging against the darkness slaughters hope and future possibilities of better outcomes, as well as success at finding what yet remains worthwhile.
These are doubtless lifelong projects. Depending on how blessed or lucky you are, that is the hand we’ve been dealt.
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Interesting reply, and one that makes me think.
I recall reading somewhere that, during a traumatic time or a time of great oppression or stress, a certain level of pessimism helped people survive. Optimism was balanced with pessimism, I believe. Or put another way, optimism was balanced with realism, the kind that avoids “toxic positivity.”
I was really depressed during the beginning phases of this ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. I utilized as many resources as I could to help keep me sane, deal with my crippling emotions, prevent suicide, and prevent contracting Covid-19. I asked for help. I called the Veterans Crisis Line – daily at times. I went online to find additional resources, and I made a plan in case something happened to me. I utilized telehealth for most of my mental and physical health needs. I reprioritized what I needed (such as avoiding dentists, eye doctors, restaurants, physical social gatherings, and in-store purchases). I found tools like contactless door deliveries for groceries, local community support online to help retrieve my packages and mail from downstairs to my door, etc. As a relatively high-risk person, I became proactive very quickly, despite my daily suicidal ideations; my rage and fears against anti-Asian hate (I’m multi-race Asian); my rage and fears against disabled, obese, and older persons during this pandemic (I’m disabled, obese, and middle-aged); and my ongoing PTSD-based trauma triggers. Dissociation helped me a lot, though much of my dissociation is due to a disorder and not proactive self-hypnosis.
I was more of a realist when it came to this pandemic. I knew polarized politics in our country were making the pandemic worse in our nation, as evidenced by the continued data showing how we still compare with other countries in terms of mortality and case counts related to Covid-19. I also knew that I was deeply upset, and that I needed to survive (yet again, as a trauma survivor). This pandemic was and is traumatic. People have lost their health, their jobs, their loved ones, their potential careers, their friends, their family, and their financial stability. People have also lost their sense of safety and agency. For those who had already experienced trauma, they sort of were experts on what to do with this huge collective/global trauma. Still, it’s traumatic and brings up a lot of past traumas for trauma survivors dealing with this pandemic. But for those without past traumas, or those with minimal past traumas, this pandemic may have become a huge shock to them. I can’t imagine what they must feel like, after a life filled with privilege of not having experienced much trauma. It would be hard to accept or even fathom such traumas, which probably makes the experience easy to dismiss. At least that is what I thought to myself as a trauma survivor – a way of trying to empathize with the non-survivors’ reactions to this pandemic.
Whereas many of us disabled persons are still depressed from being lonely and having to do most of our socializing online, many non-disabled (able-bodied) persons were not used to being homebound and fully dependent on online services for their social needs. And then came the polarized attacks on the obese, the elderly, and the disabled – as if we deserved our fate of being attacked by this virus, as opposed to be protected collectively by others. The able-bodied deserved their freedoms and happiness over and against the disabled, it seemed. That is, until they found out that even the able-bodied could succumb to Covid-19-related complications, thus rendering them in a disabled class that they were initially prejudiced against. Some have even died believing that the pandemic was either a hoax or something that wouldn’t affect their able-bodied self. Sadly, this us-versus-them mentality made this pandemic even more traumatic by the losses of relationship and relative safety for all or most.
We hear often from those who are minorities in this pandemic, but I’ve not heard many testimonies about how people on the polarized opposite – the majority of able-bodied persons – were changed, and how they coped with such traumas, and if they had even changed their minds on some things. Perhaps they don’t want to admit those things, but this entire experience gave me pause.
I found comfort in my ability to still have some cognitive faculties to think. I found comfort amid the trauma through those who acknowledge my pain, validated my feelings, helped me to not feel alone in the struggle, practiced physical distancing similarly as I did, and respected my need to survive. I am still struggling to survive, however. It’s not easy for everyone to survive, and I’m one of the lucky ones. Many are still struggling with long-covid and traumatic grief, and many are lacking the resources they need to feel comforted, to find hope, and to be proactive.
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Thank you Tamara, but my ego is fine, as are my toes. I meant what I said. You enriched the conversation and helped Dragon Fly. Brava!