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On Emotional Reactions to Things Outside Our Control: The News

In the United States, the political division between the two parties of government is often heightened by the news and media. Society seems like it is undergoing a transformation of social values based on a heightened awareness of injustices toward certain groups of people. I remember learning about things like the Red Scare and the increased caution in using technology from the result of 9/11 and The Patriot Act. Within the past couple years or so, I have witnessed the media's power firsthand.

From an outsider looking in, it is hard to find peace and tranquility with all of this happening. Sometimes it is hard when you hear about situations that are not within our control. Epictetus, in Discourses 3:18, provides some wisdom about how to react:

"Whenever any disturbing news is brought to you, you should have this thought ready at hand: that news never relates to anything that lies within the sphere of choice... What does someone else's evil have to do with you? Your own evil is to make a bad defense. That alone is what you need to guard against; but as to whether you're condemned or acquitted, that is someone else's business, and accordingly, someone else's evil. ⎼ 'So-and-so is making threats against you.' ⎼ Against me? No. ⎼ 'He's criticizing you.' ⎼ It's for him to look to how he carries out his own business. ⎼ 'He's going to condemn you unjustly.' ⎼ Poor wretch!"

I really love this passage and exchange of Epictetus. The humorous responses he gives to his fictional friend are pretty entertaining. Even in ancient Rome, there were plenty of scandals and political drama. He took careful time to warn Stoics of the harms of hearing about other peoples' business. This definitely applies to the "gossip around town" as well.

Moreover, the ubiquity of media tempts people from a particular political stance to rage against the apparent offender. Many times, people will react within a few hours of the news report (without having investigated for truth or bias). With eloquence, Epictetus provides us with some advice in restraint:

"To suppose that we'll be viewed with disdain by others if we don't resort to every means to injure the first [political] enemies we encounter is the mark of thoroughly ignoble and foolish people; for we generally say that someone can be recognized as contemptable by, among other things, his incapacity to do harm, whereas it is much more by his incapacity to do good" (Fragment VII).

Wow! I took a lot away from this. A lot of those who finds themselves frustrated or fatigued by opposing political ideas can really benefit from these words. Of course, one could apply this skill to other areas of life as well.

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