It’s no fun to feel you’re not enough, to feel you don’t belong, to feel as if you need to constantly compensate by acting nice or being whatever for whomever because who you are, is just not enough. Now, it’s a whole different thing when on top of having normal inferiority feelings as everyone else has, you have to deal as well with being discriminated against because of the color of your skin or your socioeconomic status. How would a Stoic act in any of these situations?
“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power or our will. ”
The Stoic answer to this problem remains coldly equal: Seize worrying about what is not under your control and concentrate on what is, that’s where you power lies and the only true possibility of change for the better.
I’m a mountain guide in Mexico City. I take people to the mountains and back. It’s a really fun job. I get to know people from all over the world and make new friends.
One time, I took a group of Norwegians to the mountains and had a driver to take us there and back. The driver was a regular Mexican guy, a fun fellow, had a good chat with him about his adventures as a chauffeur in Acapulco.
The interaction between this guy and the Norwegians was… weird. The Norwegians couldn’t care less about the driver. Similar to when you get on an Uber with a bad mood and careless about the Uber driver trying to talk to you about his entire life, you just put your earphones on and switch off. But the driver was deeply affected by them, he looked a bit intimidated. He was being extremely nice and of service, but it was just too much, to the point of being weird, like Dobby from Harry Potter. I mean, it’s fine for an elf to do that, but definitely not for a person. It feels false.
It wasn’t good for him either, because although his goal was obviously to be liked and appreciated for his work, he was being looked down on. It’s funny because, paradoxically, he put himself in that position. The problem was not the Norwegians judging him bad or good, but his predicament, his petty want of approval. Not doing things right for the sake of his principles and respect for himself, but ought of want of approval and appreciation. Similar to a dog asking for a bone. It’s impossible to interact with people on grounds of equality and as adults, if you don’t judge yourself worthy in the first place.
Think about this for a minute. Judging yourself worthy is not something others will do for you, or something you can get from other people,(as my driver expected to get out of being nice) but something that you need to do by and for yourself.
“Never depend on the admiration of others. There is no strength in it. Personal merit cannot be derived from an external source. It is not to be found in your personal associations, nor can it be found in the regard of other people. It is a fact of life that other people, even people who love you, will not necessarily agree with your ideas, understand you, or share your enthusiasms. Grow up! Who cares what other people think about you!”
― Epictetus, The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness
Caring about people looking down on you, or even up, is utterly useless. If people look down or up on you, it is nothing to you, for you do not care about that which is outside your control. If people talk or admire, that’s their problem, your problem is to be a good friend, a good wife, husband or whatever role you are playing while being alive.
And pay attention now for this is essential. Be good and act good for the reward of acting good and following your principles and will alone. Do not act expecting the world to go your way. The triumph of principle is enough.
When you act with strings attached, with expectations, you are still not getting it, for you are acting looking for things externally. You will be forever disappointed if you continue living this way.
However, if you focus on the internal, on your will, and rest satisfied knowing that you’ve got all you need. You’ll become cheerful, free from perturbation and, paradoxically, things outside tend to go so much better.
“The secret of fortune is joy in our hands. Welcome evermore to gods and men is the self-helping man. For him all doors are flung wide. Him all tongues greet, all honors crown, all eyes follow with desire. Our love goes out to him and embraces him because he did not need it.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance and Other Essays
Focus on being a great man or woman, learning, and growing, and all shall go well.
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