A rough day today. I feel extremely melancholy. Maybe I’m just coming down from my “emotional high” (if you can call it a “high.” It felt more like an “emotional neutral”). But I can pinpoint a few ongoings behind my emotions. Yesterday, I spent an hour or two debating on the internet with a few others in a group. It was a cordial debate; in the spirit of debate. An attempt to defend our own opinions while entertaining the ideas of others. A sort of mental exchange. It ended with one another person saying to me, “I respectfully disagree. I believe ______.” I replied, “Perhaps. I could entertain that idea.” “Likewise,” they said. And that was that. We agreed to disagree, as the cliche goes. In my view, this is how the world should be ideally.
The problem with the world is not that so many people disagree with each other, but that they think they need to agree.
I said that a couple of days ago in a conversation with my “ex-signifcant other.” (I’ll call him “Y”). And it’s come up in my mind on several occasions since then. What purpose does it serve to attempt to coerce others’ opinions to match our own? Stoically considered, the opinions of others are ultimately outside of my control. We can teach and intend to persuade people, but we don’t have control over the end result. So is it really worth getting so worked up over that we need to insult others, make fun of them, and lower our own characters? You can see where this is going.
Like I said, the debate ended in a friendly manner. That is, until someone decided to join at that time and begin attacking me specifically. The previous debate had been cordial and in good spirit, but now it turned sour. The new individual started by saying, “I’m really disappointed by your lack of critical thinking,” and pointing out a logical fallacy that he saw. That’s fine. Another person said he was being rude and demanded that he apologize to me. But I responded Stoically to the attacker, “I perceived the comment as rude. However, I’m not a slave to externals. 🙂 ” He attacked again. This time I responded with some humor in the spirit of Epictetus, “And who told you that you were destined to debate with a top-notch thinker today?!” Haha. But it fell on deaf ears. Finally I said that honestly, the previous hour was completely out of character for me because I don’t usually talk at all. “Thus my brain is fried, and I’m emotionally exhausted. Time for an introvert’s timeout.” Well then a fight between him and the person who had attempted to defend me began boiling, and I re-entered in attempt to calm it down. It did calm down eventually, but then after further conversation, he said to me something to the effect of, “…or did you just make that up too, like you do in everything else?”
I told him that his comment was considered highly impolite. I tried to speak his language and pointed out Ad Hominem and “Fallacy Fallacy” as he continued talking. But as much as he liked to think he was completely logical, he wasn’t. He was fooling himself. And herein lies the difference between him and me: I never claim to be an expert. I’m aware that I’m a human being who is capable of logic and reason, but sometimes I fail. On the other hand, he seems to be deceived that he is essentially Infallible. At that point, I used reason and decided that utilizing my assent and intentions to converse with someone who has viewed themselves as infallible up until this point is a foolish use of my time and emotional energy. It’s absurd, really. I actually began laughing out loud in my living room. Then I exited the conversation permanently.
The irony of it all was this: the debate had been about Stoicism and Christianity, but then it turned to Christianity vs. Atheism. Citing scientific findings in the natural world (which I will refer to as “science”) will never persuade me to believe that “therefore, God does not exist” because I view God as being above “science.” He owns it. It’s His method of working. He tells it what to do. It’s a different outlook. Either you believe that God is ultimately in charge of the natural order, or the natural order is in charge of itself. But you can’t prove God, and you can’t prove that the natural order is in charge of itself. One of them will be outside the realm of the other. Ultimately, you have to have faith in one of them.
Anyway, despite all the effort that he was putting forth to try to persuade me that Christianity “didn’t make sense,” the irony is this: as he was arguing this and referring to “asshole religions” (and also making more logical fallacies, such as determining the validity of religion’s doctrines based on how its adherents act), the very fact that he was being rude and accusing actually reminded me of an incident I experienced at church this weekend. I hadn’t been to church in a long time, and while I was there minding my own business, someone approached me and reprimanded me out of the blue. “This is why people leave the church!” my friends said. But the irony is that my experience with this insulting individual in the Stoicism group just provided further evidence for me that there are rude people no matter where you go.
Whenever you’re shocked by anyone’s wrong behavior, ask yourself right away, “Is it possible for there to be no bad people in this world?” That would be quite impossible. So don’t be foolish by demanding the impossible: this person is one of those bad people who must necessarily exist in the world.
(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 9.42)
Relating back to his own terminology, I could say that there are “assholes in religion” and “assholes in philosophy.” The Stoics were well aware of this phenomenon, and they sought a solution that could work in the face of this type of adversity every single time: be aware of what is in your power.
What this person says to me (reprimand or personal attack) is beyond my power. My response to the reprimand or attack is within my power. My reactions should always seek to further develop my Virtue: self-control, courage, justice, wisdom. I develop self-control by keeping my emotions in check and not allowing them to succumb to the power of others. I develop courage by standing firm for my beliefs. I develop justice by responding appropriately, by politely attempting to right a wrong. I develop wisdom by thinking through my response.
“Well that sounded like a success in the end.” I think it was. I maintained my mental tranquility for the most part. It’s still a work in progress.
Now is where all my efforts and progress abandon me (or do I abandon them?):
My SO came to my house yesterday. I had texted him that I was bored out of my mind. He responded with a picture of the book page he was reading. Then he showed up at my house.
He is my ultimate weakness, because I love him. He has already stated repeatedly that we cannot further pursue our relationship because of his family. Therefore, we have “broken up.” He’s attempted to use “reason” to arrive at an educated decision. By “reason” he has decided that he should not live his own life. It’s a paradigm flip, because (the ideal) American/European/Western mother would do anything to see her child this happy. I know my mother would! But it’s something of a cultural norm in his culture for parents to live vicariously through their children, especially the first-born son. As much as I love and respect other cultures with their own differences, I think humans have more in common than cultures have in differences. And I don’t see how this is healthy for anyone. It might be “easy,” but it’s not healthy. And it saddens me to see the cycle continue…
I’ve been trying to control myself and text him only when necessary. Honestly, when I told him earlier that I was bored, I was solely seeking conversation. I identified in myself an oncoming feeling of despair, and I knew that if I didn’t get outside and/or talk to someone quickly, I’d soon end up laying on the floor of my apartment in an apathetic state for who-knows-how-long. Been there, done that. Not interested in doing it again. I was trying to catch myself before I fell into my weakness. But I am fighting an urge to spend time with him because I really enjoy his company and admire his insights and qualities, Thankfully, because love is at work here, I don’t want to cause him guilt. But also because love is at work here, I know that he’s hurting deep down and I hate to see him enduring the same pain.
Which one in this case is logical, or using reason? Does reason determine that it is best to end the relationship, thus his family lives but part of both of us dies? Or does reason determine that two individuals who are extremely compatible and finding a hard time resisting each other should stop wasting their time fighting what other people want, and should therefore get married? Regardless, the evening ended with him feeling guilty and saying that we both really must try harder. And he left.
The next item weighing heavily on me is that sister filed my federal taxes for me. Before I left Florida to come back to Nebraska, she had filed them and informed me that I’d be receiving $_____ for my federal return. Excellent. A portion of that would be used to pay Nebraska state taxes and the remainder would be put into savings. But yesterday she informed me that she had misread the information, and that I’d actually be paying out $_____ just for the federal taxes alone. HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE? I was living below poverty last year because I was receiving a stipend in exchange for “service.” When you calculated the hours, the stipend worked out to be a little over $5 per hour. That’s what I was living on. And now I need to pay how much?! Well, I’m fairly certain that my sister didn’t file the taxes correctly. I don’t think she included any education deductions. But she already submitted the taxes and it was accepted. So now I am going to schedule a time with a CPA to help me make an amendment to it. It’s just stressful because I’m currently unemployed and trying to get a job. My budget is extremely tight. Evaluating the situation, I’m on the right track to take steps to meet with a CPA and correct this. But like I said, it’s stressful.
And since my roommate left in January, and I’m trying to spare SO some pain, I feel alone. I’m extremely introverted. I have only a couple of extremely close friends (SO being the only one who lives physically close-by). But those friendships are extremely valued. I recently re-took a Myers-Briggs test and found out that I’m INFJ, apparently one of the rarest at about 1% of the population. Well, that explains a lot of why I feel its so hard to find people who speak the same language. But the result is that I feel isolated inside my personality. Would it help to make more friends? Probably. But it’s simply my nature to place my efforts solely toward meaningful relationships. I can’t stand small talk. And it’s simply my nature as an introvert to withdraw into myself and see other people as something from which I need to protect myself (as compared to extroverts who see other people as something to explore). I’m aware that it’s within my power to even overcome myself and step outside of my comfort zone. I have recently, and I gained a new friendship. But it’s extremely difficult and exhausting for me. This is just something that I battle.
So that’s my personal reflection and the reasons behind my melancholy. I desperately need to do laundry today. Hopefully I can find the internal strength to deal with this emotion today and move forward, instead of slinking back into the depression I was in several months ago. I think that writing up the next post for the Stoic Serenity study will be a good place to start today.