Pamela Daw, who blogs at Musings of a Stoic Woman, explores how we can still try to live a good life in the face of a world which has overbearing inequalities at play.
EITHER teach them better if it be in thy power; or if it be not, remember that for this use, to bear with them patiently, was mildness and goodness granted unto thee. The gods themselves are good unto such; yea and in some things, (as in matter of health, of wealth, of honour), are content often to further their endeavours: so good and gracious are they. And mightest thou not be so too? or, tell me, what doth hinder thee?
MARCUS AURELIUS. MEDITATIONS. Book ix. 9
So often in this life we are disconcerted by the spectacle of our less than stellar fellow humans prospering in life when other more “worthy” fellow travelers do not. In trying to wrestle and deal with this reality in my own life the practice of determining what is “in my control” and what “is not in my control” has granted me a tool for reclaiming my balance and peace in the face of what appears to be rampant inequality and the capriciousness of Fate.
We have no control of outcomes in this life, nor do we have control over other humans. When we relinquish these foolish attempts to control outcomes and others around us we are left with only ourselves to try to school.
Success, i.e. wealth, material things, stature, etc., is totally out of our control. Like the athlete, all we can do is train ourselves towards our goals, becoming a worthy person in the process. Winning the trophy is totally out of our control as there are many circumstances that may arise during the course of a race to cause the athlete to fall short of their goal. We may never achieve the career goals that we have set for ourselves, have the family we hoped for, or the health that we wished for in our old age. No matter how we live our lives these things are out of our control. The only thing that we can do is to learn and live our lives in such a way as to make our goals possible with the understanding that the actual accomplishment of our goal is out of our control.
I can take an example of two goals that I had when I was younger; to be an opera singer of some fame; to be a wife and mother in a happy family. One of these goals, an opera singer, I have not accomplished, nor will I accomplish with the time left to me in this life. The other goal of being a wife and mother in a happy family I have accomplished and I continue to work towards accomplishing on a daily basis. When I was younger I decided that the goal of wife/mother would take precedence over the opera singer goal. It was a conscious decision and I have no regrets of letting one goal go when I look at the amazing children and marriage that I have. I still have my love of opera, classical music and singing that enriches my life in so many wonderful ways and have my husband and now adult children to share that love with.
Although my life does not look like that initial picture that I had painted in my mind about “ultimate happiness”, I am profoundly happy. Quite often in life we are presented with choices on the way to our goals. Choices that change the course that we are on, present us with detours, or block the way entirely. If we are locked into the destination rather than the journey we can spend our life embittered and victimized by our inability to attain our initial goal. In contrast, if we live our life as a journey filled with possibilities and allow ourselves to make decisions and course adjustments based on our journey we will be able to live a happy life filled with wonder. We will fully experience the wonder of the next bend in the river when we are not focused solely on the journey’s end or whether we will reach our “ultimate destination”.
Like an archer who sends his arrow winging through the air, we have no control over the wind speeds, rain or fleeting breezes that may blow our arrow off course from the target. If we have lived our life honourably with a correct use of reason and ethics in making our course corrections, we will reach what should be the ultimate destination of all rational beings, a happy and well lived life. A life blessed by experiences and happy memories of the relationships we have shared and been enriched with along the road.
As Marcus Aurelius mentioned in the quote above, others will prosper who do not appear to be deserving. We must not concern ourselves with others but live our life as one worthy, an athlete who has proved himself ready to win the prize; ethical, loving, and reasonable. One who our fellow travelers look up to as an example of a human who is living a life filled with happiness and wonder, balanced in both efforts and reason.
This post first appeared on Pamela’s blog in August 2013, and is reproduced here with her mind permission.
More about Pamela:
Pamela Daw is mother of three adult children, and has been married to Michel Daw for 27 years. She blogs at Musings of a Stoic Woman and Words of the Ancient Wise. With her husband, she runs a Stoic community, which meets regularly, in Canada.