Friday, January 22, 2016

Week 4: Endure

For the next two weeks, we're going to focus on a paraphrased saying of Epictetus: Endure and renounce.

For the fourth week, we're going to focus on “Endure.” In order to do that, we have to know what that means in a Stoic sense.

Stoics were known for enduring a lot in life. Epictetus endured pain. Cato endured moral corruption. Marcus endured wars and traitors. And this isn't even to count all the nameless Stoics whose lives were filled with their own personal woes that had to be confronted and survived.

It might sound like the Stoics were sort of pushovers that let life do pretty much whatever it want to do. The thing is, endurance of problems doesn't mean you don't try to change anything. Cato fought the corruption he saw. Marcus forgave the traitors and did his best to end the wars. And Epictetus, unable to do much for the pain, focused instead on changing his thoughts about his pain.

Enduring is a concept seemly missing in today's world, at least as far as I can see. People openly complain about coworkers they don't like, making themselves and others around them miserable. If they don't like their job, they'll let everyone short of the people that can fire them know. Don't like your elected officials? TO THE INTERNET! Surly airing one's political views on Facebook will calm your ire.

Except, none of it does. Oliver Burkeman, author of the book The Antidote, cites a study suggesting that airing your dirty laundry to everyone – also know as letting off steam – can keep the feelings fresh. Plus, when other people can give you input, they also might give you even more reasons to be upset.

But endurance, as I said, isn't just rolling over. Is your coworker impacting how you work, or how well your job goes? If not, well, maybe you just let it go or muster the courage to talk directly to them. If they truly are a problem, talk – not whine – to management. Don't like your job? Quit, or work on finding a new one. Mayor Jim Bob McCoy passes a law you don't like? Write to Jim Bob. Protest Jim Bob. Let Jim Bob know.

Endurance helps us in other ways, too. For one thing, it helps build up our willpower. If we start a new diet or try to quit smoking or drinking, we're going to have to endure cravings, people possibly teasing us, and having to learn new ways to cope with the problems these things might have help us solve once. If we seek a new path in life – liking trying to write a novel or going back to college later in life – you might have to deal with mocking, uncertainty, and pushing past failures.

Endurance is a skill we all can learn. It's also something that, if weak, can be made stronger. It will also help you with next week's task: renounce.

There aren't too many ways we can build this skill up in life voluntarily, but here are a couple of suggestions:

  • Try to keep complaining down to a minimum. I've tried this one and, let me tell you, it's not as easy as it seems.
  • Quit doing something you find rewarding, but it impacts your life negatively. Video games were this for me for awhile. I'd play for hours, ignoring work I wanted to do as well as my wife and son. I sold the system I had (which plays into renouncing) and was able to quit for awhile. Now that I can play games again, though, I feel it creeping back up on me.

That's it for now. Next week, we're going to tackle renouncing. I'm also looking for ideas for week 6, so keep those suggestions coming.

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