The Daily Stoic for February 26th. “To each his own”.
“Another has done me wrong? Let him see to it. He has his own tendencies, and his own affairs. What I have now is what the common nature has willed, and what I endeavor to accomplish now is what my nature wills.”
—MARCUS AURELIUS, MEDITATIONS, 5.25
No American book on philosophy is complete without a reference to Abraham Lincoln. In this stoic passage, the author narrates how, when getting upset with someone, instead of telling that person, he would write a long letter, describing what was wrong with the behavior of this person and what Abraham would have wanted them to do instead. He would not send this letter, though.
The rough equivalent of that letter in today’s terms would be writing an angry tweet. I can’t make up my mind whether this is a good thing or not. I’m trying to think about real-life situations here.
Is It Good To Release Our Negativity?
On the one hand, while writing that tweet or letter can help you relieve the stress or tension of the moment, I doubt it’s constructive at all.
In my view, when we turn those negative feelings into words, we are materializing them and making them real in our minds.
If we are angry with a workmate because it took her a lot to do one of her tasks, and led by the anger of the moment, we write: “she is such a lazy person… never finishes her tasks in time”, we are changing our opinion about that person. Perhaps she just had a bad day, but in our minds she is now a lazy worker.
Additionally, Twitter or any other social media platform adds a propagation factor to the equation. They are no longer your thoughts, now it’s your public opinion.
Finally, there’s a time there that you are wasting in putting negative feelings on paper (or in the cloud). I don’t think the relief we experiment is worth that.
I would rather stick to more positive ways of coping with it. Perhaps meditating about it.
To Each His Own
On the other hand, I feel sometimes it’s better to actually say what you think to the offending person. Of course, before doing that, you need to take a deep breath, allow yourself a moment to calm down and make sure it’s your mind who’s speaking, not your emotions.
Sometimes, and I’m thinking about working situations here, there are teammates who are in fact lazy. We all know this person that tries to make you do their job, or spends most of the time sucking up to the boss…
They are not going to stop if you just write an angry letter about them and hide that in a drawer at home. You need to tell them, politely, but firmly, that you are not there to do their job.
This is just an example but, in my mind, sometimes it’s better to tell things out loud. Obviously, stoicism is a perfect tool to avoid being dragged by our feelings and instead say the things from a rational, constructive perspective.
But you need to take it out. Suppressing your anger is never a good think, like good old Homer shows us.
Today’s Daily Stoic, “To each his own”, revolves again around not letting our feelings take over our daily situations. Concretely, on the need of telling someone when we are angry or infuriated with something they did.
While I think it’s not constructive at all to just write a letter about this person and never actually send it, I believe that we need to actually let that feelings get out.
For me, the best way is having a deep breath and telling that person in the most humble, honest and tranquil way possible.