In the second of our examples from ‘Street Stoicism’ (published in Polish as ‘Stoicyzm Uliczny‘, but not yet in English), Marcin Fabjanski considers the Stoic response to take when you ever become too ‘busy’ to notice a child who wants your attention.
As with all 41 examples in Marcin’s book, he imagines the situation, before presenting a Stoic maxim that relates to the situation, drawing out the meaning of that maxim, and giving advice on how to tame the situation.
Watch out for our next example from Street Stoicism this Saturday!
Oh, what a nice picture, this flower’s really pretty. Oooh, it’s a house. Beautiful. Keep on drawing, I have to read this paper, it’s really important. No, I won’t draw with you. I’m busy, can’t you see?
What now? Building blocks? Stop bothering me, have you got ADHD or what? I don’t know exactly what ADHD means. It’s something really bad and you have it.
The poet Słonimski was right when he wrote that children are disgrace to human race. How much nicer would the world be without them. Nobody would bother me. I could simply… Don’t take this paper. Careful, you’ll tear up the sports section.
That’s enough! You’re going to bed!
Oh come on, don’t start crying now…
‘There is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living; there is nothing harder to learn.’
Seneca (trans. John W. Basore)
A busy man does not live, although when you look at him it might seem that he lives more than a lazy person. He keeps doing something, acquiring new skills, self-developing and earning money. He might be a highly valued worker of a corporation. When he is not working, acquiring new skills or earning anything – he is very busy entertaining himself or doing various sports. He calls himself active and he thinks that he, if anyone, realizes what we call “living life to the full”.
He is mistaken – says Seneca about this kind of person. Whatever he does is a piece of cake. Work, entertainment, career path – these are all things that are served to him by our society in a nice suitable marketing package. And he just swallows this food without thinking. There is one thing that this person never has any contact with – this thing is life.
It is not easy to live. Life itself – the facts – is not wrapped in an attractive cultural package. It is also pain, illness, death, constant irritation. For what is a child that demands the attention of a grown-up, who in turn is dying to read the news from the world and his country, and especially sport? Sheer torment. But the child is also a charge of cumulated life energy in pure form.
The ability to live – the most difficult of arts, according to Seneca – is standing naked in front of life, without the armour of tricks that our culture has produced. Looking straight into the eyes of the child, who is real, and putting down the newspaper – an artificial product, time eater.
TAMING THE SITUATION
Remember the old Stoic truth that what irritates us depends only on ourselves, on our attitude. The irritation is not in the child but in our mind. Look at the situation from this new perspective. You are sitting on the armchair – deep in the past (contents of the newspaper), totally ignoring the present, which demands your attention (the child).
It’s an excellent opportunity to practise attentiveness – the art of relaxed observation of what is happening in the present moment, no matter whether it’s pleasant or not.
You still feel that drawing away from the newspaper won’t be so easy? Remember the words of Seneca – we have to learn to live, and this takes some effort.