To resent change is to wrongly assume that you have a choice in the matter.
The Greek Philosopher Heraclitus, who lived from 535 BC-475 BC, said, “No man steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”Life is in a constant state of change. And so are we. To get upset by things is to wrongly assume that they will last. To kick ourselves or blame others is grabbing at the wind. To resent change is to wrongly assume that you have a choice in the matter.Everything is change. Embrace that. Flow with it.
We control our attitudes and responses to life events.
A sign on President Harry Truman’s desk read, THE BUCK STOPS HERE. As president, with more power and control than pretty much anyone else, he knew that, good or bad, there wasn’t anyone he could blame for stuff other than himself. There was no one to pass the buck to. The chain ended there, in the Oval Office. Blaming others or things seem to be an increasingly popular exercise in today’s America.As the president of our own lives—and knowing that our powers begin and end with our reasoned choice—we would do well to internalize this same attitude. We don’t control things outside that sphere, but we do control our attitudes and responses to those events—and that’s plenty. It’s enough that we go into each and every day knowing that there is no one to pass the buck to. It ends with us.
Imagine you’ve dreamed of a life in politics. You’re young, you’re vigorous, and you’ve held increasingly powerful positions over the course of your career. Then at thirty-nine, you start to feel run down. Your doctors tell you that you have polio and your life will never be the same. Your career is over—right?This is the story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, now widely regarded as one of American’s greatest political leaders. He was, at middle age, diagnosed with polio after spending years preparing for and dreaming about the presidency.It’s impossible to understand FDR without understanding this disability. The “external thing” was that he was crippled—this was a literal fact—but his judgment of it was that it did not cripple his career or his personhood. Though he was certainly the victim of a then incurable disease, he wiped away—almost immediately—the victim’s mentality.Let’s not confuse acceptance with passivity.
Hope is generally regarded as good. Fear is generally regarded as bad. Some would say they are the same—both are projections into the future about things we do not control. Both are the enemy of this present moment that you are actually in. Both mean you’re living a life in opposition to amro fati.*It’s not about overcoming our fears but understanding that both hope and fear contain a dangerous amount of want and worry in them. And, sadly, the want is what causes the worry.*amro fati is a Latin phrase that may be translated as “love of fate” or “love of one’s fate”. It is used to describe an attitude in which one sees everything that happens in one’s life, including suffering and loss, as good or, at the very least, necessary.
When General Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote to his wife on the eve of the invasion of Normandy, he told her, “Everything we could think of has been done, the troops are fit, everybody is doing his best. The answer is in the lap of the gods.” He’d done everything he could—and now, what would happen would happen and he was ready to bear whatever that was. In fact, Eisenhower had written another letter that night and prepared it for release in case the invasion failed. If failure was what God—or fate or luck or whatever you want to call it—willed, he was ready.There is a wonderful lesson there. The man in charge of perhaps the most powerful army the world had ever assembled, on the eve of the most expertly organized and planned invasion the world will hopefully ever know, was humble enough to know that the outcome ultimately belonged to someone or something bigger than him.And so it goes with all our ventures. No matter how much preparation, no matter how skilled or smart we are, the ultimate outcome is in the lap of the gods. The sooner we know that, the better we will be.
It’s about not judging other people’s behavior, but judging our own.
It’s pretty obvious that one should keep away from the wicked and two-faced as much as possible—the jealous friend, the narcissistic parent, the untrustworthy partner. Avoid false friends.But what if we turn it around? What if, instead, we ask about the times that we have been false to our friends? It’s about not judging other people’s behavior, but judging our own.We’ve all been a frenemy at one point or another. We’ve been nice to their face—usually because there was something in it for us —but later, in different company, we said how we truly felt. Or we’ve strung someone along, cared only when things were going well, or declined to help even though someone really needed us.This behavior is beneath us—and worth remembering the next time we accuse someone else of being a bad friend.
There is no guarantee that they will return the favor
“Wherever there is a human being, we have an opportunity for kindness.” —Seneca, On the Happy LifeThe first person you meet today—passing acquaintance or friend—no matter the context—positive or negative—is an opportunity for kindness. It is an opportunity for benefit. For both of you. You can seek to understand where they are coming from. You can seek to understand who they are, what they need, and what forces or impulses might be acting on them. And you can treat them well and be better off for it.The same is true for the second person you encounter, and the third. Of course, there is no guarantee that they will return the favor, but that’s not our concern. As always, we’re going to focus on what we control: in this case, the ability to choose to respond with kindness.
Positive qualities that you can develop that don’t depend on genetic accidents.
It’s easy to blame our circumstances. One person curses that they weren’t born taller, another that they’re not smarter, with a different complexion, or born in a different country. It’d be hard to find a single person on this planet—from MVP Quarterbacks on down—who doesn’t think they’re deficient in at least some way. But whatever your perceived deficits are, remember that there are positive qualities that you can develop that don’t depend on genetic accidents.You have the choice to be truthful. You have the choice to be dignified. You can choose to endure. You can choose to be happy. You can choose to be present. You can choose to be kind to others. You can choose to be free. You can persist under difficult odds. You can avoid trafficking in gossip. You can choose to be gracious.And honestly, aren’t the traits that are the result of effort and skill more impressive anyway?
The person sitting next to you on the plane, the one who is loudly chattering and knocking around in your space? The one you’re grinding your teeth about, hating from the depth of your soul because they’re rude, ignorant, obnoxious? In these situations, you might feel it takes everything you have to restrain yourself from murdering them.It’s funny how that thought comes into our heads before, you know, politely asking them to stop, or making a minor scene for a different seat. We’d rather be pissed off, bitter, raging inside than risk an awkward conversation that might actually help this person and make the world a better place. We don’t just want people to be better, we expect it to magically happen—that we can simply will other people to change, burning holes into their skull with our angry stare.Although when you think about it that way, it makes you wonder who the rude one actually is.
“In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
In 1992, Barbara Jordan addressed the Democratic National Convention and railed against the greed and selfishness and divisiveness of the previous decade. (Sound familiar today!) People were ready for a change. “Change it to what?” she asked. “Change that environment of the 80s to an environment which is characterized by a devotion to the public interest, public service, tolerance, and love. Love. Love. Love.”Love. Love. Love. Love. Why? Because, as the Beatles put it, “In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Not just in politics, not just in tolerance, but in our personal lives. There is almost no situation in which hatred helps. Yet almost every situation is made better by love—or empathy, understanding, appreciation—even situations in which you are in opposition to someone.And who knows, you might just get some of that love back....read more