“Protect your own good in all that you do…” Epictetus
How does one protect his good? Why? Is it under attack? Will someone steal it in the night? Epictetus is somewhat esoteric when it comes to his meaning here, for when he speaks of good in this way he almost seems to be talking of the soul.
So to the first question, how does one protect his good, or soul? First and foremost we have to not let the sometimes overwhelming negative news of the day infect us with its rage, or worse its apathy. In a sense we need to stay naive, or like children.
I don’t think he means we should be ignorant of the world around us, more that we should deal with what is in front of us, where we can affect real change. The rest, those things beyond our reach, we need to let go. By focusing on the problems that we can fix we maintain our hope, which in turn protects our good.
As for the second question, is it under attack or threat of theft, I’d say yes. Anything that tries to steal our attention away from our own, or our community’s, betterment is trying to steal the good. Where we place our focus is where and what we grow. Toxic politics, wealth for wealth’s sake, recognition- these are all things that can steal the good from us and we need to be vigilant about how much attention we pay them.
Most people will be talking about the new season of Stranger Things in a couple days, and that’s fine. I’m going to be enjoying the hell out of it too, I’m sure. But if you like what the Duffers have created then you owe it to yourself to see how creators in Europe are treating similar themes. Enter my new favorite Netflix series, Dark. It’s Stranger Things but, well, darker. The second season just dropped last week, so if you are going to jump in you’ve got some catching up to do, but at 8 shows a season that isn’t a big ask.
(Side note: This is one of the best things about the rise of streaming services, short run, serial television. We really don’t need season 10 of the X Files, or probably seasons 6-9 if we’re being honest. Creators need to tell a story, and when it’s done, just be done. OK off my soap box.)
Dark is a German-language sci-fi series co-created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese and revolves around time-travel paradoxes, murders, affairs, and surprise ancestors- to say more would be to spoil the show. Just trust me that this esoteric study on the nature of time and reality is worth a weekend binge even if you do have to read some subtitles to completely follow the intricately in-folding narrative.
I’m not the only one singing this shows praises either “ Netflix’s best supernatural series returns this Friday—no, not Stranger Things (that’s out July 4) but Dark, the German-language thriller that blends time travel, philosophy, and demonic evil with a deftness that its streaming-service counterpart only dreams of delivering. “- Nick Schager
I’d love to hear what other people think of this show so if you watch it, hit me up on Twitter and let me know what you think. It’s a show worth discussing.
“We should bring our will into harmony with whatever happens, so that nothing happens against our will…” – Epictetus
This almost feels like a Jedi mind trick, but it works. Stop thinking of life in terms of things you have to do. If you have to, you have no choice, and it implies you’d rather be doing something else. Instead reframe it as things you get to do. If you get to do it, it is a privilege.
Life is going to happen regardless. There will always be to-do lists, fender benders, broken appliances and moody teenagers, and if you look at all that life throws at you as a series of things you have to do, you’ll likely be miserable. If, on the other hand you see them as opportunities to be productive, to practice patience, to learn new skills, you’ll have a much better life. Nothing external will have changed, but your outlook will have changed.
“Whatever anyone else does or says, for my part I’m bound to the good.” Marcus Aurelius.
This is of course the whole purpose of any true philosophy, to point you in the direction of the good– good life, good work, good attitude, etc- and most pointedly to give you a method for getting there and then maintaining it. I think living one’s life reflectively is the surest method for seeing how to get the good. We all intrinsically know what it is, we just need to give ourselves time to think and time to really see it. This is the easy part.
Maintaining the good is a whole other story. There lies the struggle, but it is a good fight, and one definitely worth fighting. Fight the good fight.
SVAHA: THE SIXTH FINGER, a South Korean thriller on Netflix, revolves around a series of cult-inspired murders and the religious investigator, who runs an organisation that exposes fringe religious groups.
I’m new to Korean film, but from what I have heard they excel at laying the foundation of seemingly separate stories, slowly developing them and then finally linking it all together in a grand climax. SVAHA follows that pattern with a highlight on the “slowly” part. I enjoyed it, but it took a while to find its footing. All the ingredients are there: from the foreboding atmosphere, supernatural elements, multiple murders, and even a quasi-monster. However, the pacing really made the first half of the film a bit of a slog.
Some people think of Stoicism as a passive philosophy. What will be will be, so why get worried about it. I’ll admit there is something to that, but at the same time, one of Stoicism’s strongest proponents, Seneca, also forcefully endorsed rising to meet challenges head on.
“How does it help…to make misfortunes heavier by complaining about them…The more precarious his situation, the more immanent his fall from power, the more firmly he should be resolved to stand and fight. It isn’t manly to retreat from fortune.“
So yes, life happens, and complaining doesn’t improve anything. However, that doesn’t mean you just sit and let the world walk all over you either. You rise to meet your challenges. But here I think is where the real value of this philosophy shines, because even though you fight, you do not become wedded to the result. Our purpose is to live and live well, and that will sometimes include standing up against misfortunes. But the results will be what they will be. Our goal was achieved when we decided to act virtuously, regardless of result.
I remember reading some time back, I don’t remember where, that one of the reasons our brains tend to slip a bit as we age is because so much of our lives revolve around habits. We wake up at the same time every day; our morning routines are seemingly set in stone. Take the same route to work; and work itself is a day-in-day-out experience. We drive the identical route home- how many times have you been road hypnotized on the way home and forgotten whole stretches of the ride? Then, dinner and sit in front of a screen and watch the same shows week after week. All this habitual behavior seems to make the brain atrophy a bit. (I make no claims to scientific truth here, and I am not talking about real mental failure, just the slow dulling that seems common with age.)
Then more recently I heard a corollary to this phenomenon. It is due to these monotonous patterns that we follow as adults that time seems to go by so quickly. In our youth, everything is new so the brain takes lots of “footage” so we can remember things. The highlight film is long. When your 40+ there is little new so the brain goes on autopilot a lot- no new footage. So when we think back there is no highlight reel to watch, time just seems to have flown by.
All of this certainly does not sound ideal, so what do we do about it? Epictetus has a simple solution. “What assistance can we find in the fight against habit? Try the opposite!” Simple right? We just need to find ways of doing things a little differently each day, even something as simple as taking a different route to work will probably help.
Time for me to make a list.
“Don’t be ashamed of needing help. You have a duty to fulfill just like a soldier on the wall of battle. So what if you are injured and can’t climb up without another soldier’s help.” _ Marcus Aurelius
Over the past few weeks I’ve had the occasion to watch not only Saving Private Ryan (during a theater screening for the anniversary of D Day) but also an episode of Band of Brothers. One of the big takeaways from each work was the relationships that develop on the battlefield. They truly do become like brothers and asking for help isn’t the slightest bit shameful, it is a necessary survival technique. Quite literally, no one wins a war alone.
As we go through life it should be no different. We are fighting a battle, every one of us. The exact nature of that war and how it takes shape is different for everyone, but that doesn’t make it any less real. And, no, there is no shame in asking for, and expecting, help from our brothers-at-arms.
“The impregnable wall of philosophy helps us tame the mad frenzy of our greed and tamps down the fury of our fears.” – Seneca
In other words, it is philosophy that allows us to gain true perspective on our lives. Perspective to see that our anxieties most often do not come to an actual evil fruition. Perspective to see that our desire for more, at its core, is not really a desire for material wealth, but instead for meaning and purpose.
Philosophy then is the greatest aim of the human mind, if done consistently, and done well. A noble pursuit that will benefit not just the participant, but those around him as well.