Sympatheia

I was watching the movie Hot Fuzz after work a few days ago. I’ve seen it before and there was no real reason for me to be watching it. There were certainly more important things to be doing. In the film, this picturesque village carries a dark secret, and the villager’s have a mantra they often say in a brainwashed drone, “the greater good.”

Every weekday morning, I start my day by journaling and then reading from Ryan Holiday’s book, The Daily Stoic.  The Stoic concept, sympatheia, was mentioned in today’s reading which the book describes as “the notion of an interconnected cosmos in which everything in the universe is a part of a larger whole.” In other words, “the greater good.”

Last night my daughter wrote my wife and I an amazing letter. It was full of radical candor – clear, concise, specific, and accurate. She’s 12! It called us out on all the ways we are failing her as parents, and she was right. There was no blame in her letter, just critical objective truth. Oddly enough, it didn’t sting or hurt to read her words, because her motivation was to inform us of how we are showing up, not to shame us. It’s foolish to argue against the truth and pointless to be hurt by it.

I am 100% guilty of shaming others through the veil of humor. Humor is my defense mechanism – it’s how I fortify my walls to keep from getting hurt by others. That’s the bullshit excuse I tell myself anyway. At times, my wife tells my daughter, “what he’s saying to you is how he really feels about himself,” and she’s absolutely right. My daughter is at a fragile age and I need to be better for her. I cannot let my daily struggles and the haunts of my past show up as sarcastic commentary that prevents me from modeling the behavior that will help my daughter become a kind, compassionate, empathetic adult.

This intention of this blog is never to preach, but share, in my way, the conflicts I experience daily. It exists as a means for me to teach myself, while processing what ails my brain through the process of writing.

From the sardonic use of “the greater good” in Hot Fuzz, to my daughter’s letter, to the happenings that inspired her to write her letter, to the stoic path that led me to the following quotes this morning, the synchronicity holds weight that I will shoulder.

“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself” – Epictetus

Waste No More Time Arguing What A Good Man Should Be. Be One.” – Marcus Aurelius

Getting Clear on Clarity

Clarity. We often simplify clarity as being something that’s clearly visible or understandable. What we often miss the important fact that clarity is actually defined as the “quality of being clear.” Quality is “the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something.” Quality is a degree of excellence! So clarity is really the excellence within how we see things.

If I’m in New York and call some friends in California this morning to describe the sunrise, and they look out their windows looking to see what I see, they lack clarity on the relativity of sunrises. In truth, sunrises are a misnomer. The sun doesn’t rise at all. It just appears to us as it does based on the earth’s position in relation to the sun and where we are located in relation to that. It’s all relative. We often intentionally miss such obvious things because we feel it somehow makes our lives easier when we do so. We choose to stay in the dark.

Enlightenment requires an action to become enlightened. We can choose to stand still and be enlightened only when the light finds us, but this is akin to a broken watch being right twice a day. We have to get clarity on the reality that the sun is shining somewhere.

Device or De-vice

Device is defined as:

  1. a thing made or adapted for a particular purpose, especially a piece of mechanical or electronic equipment.”
  2. a plan, scheme, or trick with a particular aim

Vice is defined as:

  1. immoral or wicked behavior.
  2. a weakness of character or behavior; a bad habit.

The prefix “de-” is commonly used to indicate privation, removal, separation, negation, descent, reversal and intensity.

Left to our own devices, we have grown accustomed to rely on our devices, which is used as a device to deprive us of connection, remove us from reality, separate us from our friends and family, and negate opportunities to grow. All of which leads to a descent in our well-being, a reversal of our progress and serves to intensify our pain.

Choosing to use the one device we always have in our control, our reasoned choice, is the key to de-vicing ourselves. To be able to live without vice.

 

The Surface of Service

We’ve all experienced poor service. How do we know? Because we’ve also experienced exceptional service. Knowing one is what informs the other. These experiences create a sliding scale, whether it be interpersonal (restaurant server) or technological (internet server). We know quality!

However, when the quality is either stellar or horrible, we tend to look only at what’s directly in front of us as the root cause. Let’s explore the latter. “This waiter is terrible! It’s taking forever for us to get our food and it’s impossible to get his/her/their attention.” Equally, we’ve all slapped a remote control on our thigh or grunted impatiently when the spinning wheel of doom pops up on one of our devices, irrationally thinking that the gods of technology should inherently know when it’s our time to relax and not interfere.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to have the ability to place a “Do Not Disturb” sign on all our daily interactions? Wouldn’t life be just grand if things would just always go our way? Shouldn’t life just know that we all have places to go, people to see and things to do, and just get out of the way?

We all know the correct responses, but we’re all guilty of wanting the opposite. When life is imperfect, which is mostly, perspective is the only accurate measure of perfection. Furthermore, when life is imperfect, is it the fault of the surface or what’s beneath…or neither?

In case of the restaurant experience, perhaps your server is covering for another co-worker that called out last-minute, or perhaps there were some problems in the kitchen that the server bravely took responsibility for, even though it’s was beyond their control, knowing that it would likely have a negative impact on their gratuity. Or, perhaps they are simply not good at their job. In that case, it’s still not their fault. Someone was responsible for hiring that terrible server, training them and holding them accountable.

In the case of technology, maybe the batteries are dead in your remote. Maybe it’s your TV. Maybe it’s the cable box. Maybe it’s your router. Maybe it’s weather related. Maybe there’s a local outage caused by a bad accident. Whatever the case, it goes beyond the surface.

Blame is easiest on the surface – to blame what’s right in front of us. But the act of blaming is ultimately a disservice to your reasoned choice. You are making the decision to blame because you are being inconvenienced, but nothing or nobody has to power to inconvenience you. It’s a choice to be inconvenienced.

Perhaps your slow service at lunch caused you to rush back to work and you got pulled over for speeding. It’s that also the waiter’s fault? Will you be taking him to court to fight your ticket? Are you also going to take the restaurant managers to court and blame them for hiring the awful waiter that made you run late and therefore have to speed back to work? Maybe you’ll have to go even higher up the chain to see who was responsible for hiring such incompetent managers in the first place. Clearly, it’s their fault. Or, perhaps that extra ten minutes spent at the restaurant fuming while waiting for your check served to help you avoid being involved in a terrible accident on your way back to work that resulted in a serious power outage in the area. Granted that outage is really inconveniencing me on my couch at home taking a personal day because I just needed a day to binge-watch some Netflix, and now I’m cursing the skies because I have no internet connection, but I digress. Oh, and let’s not forget how you’re going to blame all the people who were seriously injured in that terrible accident and your waiter for the reason your boss yelled at you taking a two-hour lunch.

Yes, we know quality in terms of good versus bad service. But, do we know the quality of our perspective? What a disservice to ourselves to not examine how we choose to look at things.

Relatable Theory of Relativity

Michael Jackson’s Thriller has sold 47 million copies worldwide officially, with other sources suggesting it’s somewhere between 66 million and upwards of 120 million unofficially. Whatever the number, there is no disputing that Michael Jackson was/is world-famous. But let’s examine those numbers for a moment. The current world population is estimated at 7.2 billion, which simply means that there are statistically far more people who have likely never even heard of Michael Jackson. Fame is relative, even when you’re world famous.

The point is here is that regardless of the topic at hand, the reality is that there’s always going to be more unknowns than what’s known. The smartest person in the world knows very little in relation to all there is to know. We humans lack that capacity, which is a good thing! Because, what we don’t lack, is the possibility to gain perspective. Perspective isn’t tied to anything more than how you are able to look at something. Perspective defies intellect. There are plenty of people who think or believe they are geniuses, icons, etc. However, the reality is that they are lying to themselves.

We lie to ourselves on a daily basis in order to rationalize our behaviors and actions. What’s interesting is that when you find yourself doing the right thing, simply because it’s the right thing to do, there’s no need to rationalize anything. It just is.

When we accept that Truth will always be weighed on a scale heavily tipped in favor of the unknown, our lives are simplified. Sometimes balance isn’t visual. Balance in this case is conceptual. Balance is seeing the imbalance, and choosing not to obsess over balancing what’s impossible. What we know will never balance out to the things we don’t know. Balance is found in the acceptance of that truth.

The Character Prestige

Prestidigitation – sleight of hand. When performed well, our most rational and logical minds are beyond amazed. We know it’s deception, but we don’t know how. Not knowing how is what makes it magic. It seems impossible.

In life, when things are going well, it’s easy to maintain a good mood. There’s no real deception needed, since our demeanor is merely a reflection of what’s happening in our lives. This is not where one’s true character is revealed. What sometime feels impossible in life is being able to show up and be present when our lives are in throes of conflict and struggle. This is where one’s true character is revealed. The people we tend to admire most are the ones that remain steadfast regardless of whether situational life has them up or down. Their emotions are not tied to these events. Events do not determine their demeanor; their choices do. This is not deception – this is character. They are wizards!

We know this because we all know what it looks like when people try, and fail, to put up a facade to mask turmoil. It’s a poorly executed magic trick, where nobody is fooled except for the magician that believes they fooled the audience. This is self-deception. It’s akin to a 5-year old getting a magic set and clumsily performing a simply trick for family members. Proper etiquette dictates that you don’t call bullshit on a 5-year doing a magic trick. We pretend to be mystified.

The dilemma here is twofold. First, we must actively work to not let everything going on around us determine how we show up. Our will must be stronger than the breeze at its worst and able to withstand gale force winds at its best. Secondly, we help others through displays of compassion and empathy. True displays or compassion and empathy do not involve letting people off the hook. Nobody wins when we knowingly allow ourselves to be deceived by someone else’s poor sleight of hand. The prestige of life is a resolute pursuit of truth.

Easy Doesn’t

Easy offers up a sigh of relief when something doesn’t meet our expectations in a positive way. On occasion, it’s welcomed with opened arms. However, if easy is the expectation, that begs the question, “what does easy do for me?” Not much, as easy doesn’t help you grow.

Look to nature for examples of this axiom. Take two patches of dirt. In one, you sprinkle grass seed, and then leave it unattended with the expectation that nature will simply do its thing. In the other, you till the soil, plant the seeds, add fertilizer and water it each day, being mindful not to under water or over water. You still have the expectation that nature will do its thing, but this expectation is supported by fact that you put the effort to help influence the results. In two week’s time, what are the results?

The results may seem obvious, however, what’s commonly overlooked is the simple lesson that in order for anything to grow to its fullest potential, it had to literally go through shit to get there. Effort is the fertilizer of life.

Furthermore, if during that two-week period there are unexpected non-stop torrential rains, there’s a good chance that both plots will be ruined. But, that’s beyond your control, as nature always is. You can still rest assured that your efforts, although wasted in this case, were still the right approach to getting the results you desired. When life shits on you, it’s easy to seek sympathy. But, easy doesn’t. So instead, when life shits on you, consider for a moment what it’s fertilizing?