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Stoicism For Beginners

I recently picked up a book entitled The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph, by Ryan Holiday. I’m enjoying what I’ve read so far, and will probably write more once I’ve formed more opinions on it.

But, I just wanted to jot down this thought, more to have it personally available for quick reference than anything else. Holiday is speaking about our attitude when we encounter obstacles in our chosen path:

“It’s not just: How can I think this is not so bad? No, it is how to will yourself to see that this must be good — an opportunity to gain a new foothold, move forward, or go in a better direction. Not “be positive” but learn to be ceaselessly creative and opportunistic.

Not: This is not so bad.

But: I can make this good.

The Need for Community

Let me confess this up front: I’m not really what most would call a “people person”.  I know I’ve mentioned it before here, but I’m somewhat slow to meet people, even when those people come into my turf (like my workplace, or church). I just have a tough time thinking of ways to get conversations started, and I dread the awkward pauses that are sure to come fairly quickly after we start talking.

But, here’s the thing: even people like me need others around us. I’d prefer that they left me alone most of the time, sure, but I do enjoy having others around me, just for the sense of them being there.

We humans are social creatures. We’re made for living together in groups. Some of us like groups that are bigger (like New Yorkers), and some would prefer smaller communities (like those of us who wouldn’t live in New York if you paid us). But, we all need people around us. It’s an innate drive that we can’t overcome no matter how hard we try.

This need for community stems from the fact that we’re not good at everything we need to be good at in order to survive.  We’re specialists to some extent.  We are supported by, and in turn support, others.  Where our talents end, other’s talents begin (and vice versa).  We each have something to contribute.

But this is more than just some vague, general understanding that, “Yeah, I can’t milk cows, so I’m glad that the grocery store has 2% in their refrigerated cases”.  Beyond the understanding of specialization within a society, there’s actual community.  There are groups of people (we call them “family” and “friends”) who support you when you need help, celebrate with you when something goes well, and generally just make life more pleasant when they’re around.

We rely on these people to greater or lesser extents every day, depending on the situation, our psyche, and what random circumstance brings up.  But, not a day goes by when we can do it on our own.  We always need someone else’s contribution to our lives, no matter how much we pride ourselves on self-reliance.  It’s possible that we can make it on our own, but it’s certainly not possible that we can make it the best way on our own.  We need each other.

I say all this for this reason: I know that I personally get frustrated with the people around me, even the ones that care about me the most.  I struggle with my attitude, calling people “jerks” and “idiots” in my head or behind their backs, even if not always to their faces.

I need to learn to have more patience with others, as I know they have to have patience with me.  I need to make allowances for people to act the way they’re going to act, even when it frustrates me.  Because, from the very same mind that causes those annoyances also generates the actions that make my life worth living.

Focus on the good in people, and learn to cut them a little slack.  You’ll probably find that they begin to cut you some, as well.  And goodness knows, you probably need more slack than they do.

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