This past Saturday, I got up early because I had a Zoom meeting with a Pointless Overthinking colleague who lives on the other side of the planet. Despite my best efforts, I’d gotten up a touch late and was in a hurry to get breakfast eaten so I wouldn’t be tardy for our online rendezvous.
For quite a long time now, right after breaking my fast in the morn, I’ve been consuming a bit of ginger and turmeric. On the morning of the aforementioned meeting, just as I was preparing to spoon down the latter, I spilled the bright orange powder all over the counter and floor. I uttered a few unmentionable expletives and shook my fist. What a time for this sort of thing to happen. I was in a hurry, and now I had a bit of cleanup that was bound to slow me down.
While I began wiping and mopping, a thought flashed into my head. I had had exactly the wrong sort of response to this occurrence. It suddenly became perfectly clear that hardship, struggle, and mishaps are not bugs; they are features of life. It’s so easy to think things like: “Why have I had this bad luck? The world is out to get me.” To be honest, the “world” couldn’t care less about whether or not you have an easy time of things. In the case of the spilled turmeric, I turned the bottle over improperly and gravity did its thing. Nothing was out to give me a hard time. The natural world is actually pretty indifferent to human suffering. That’s why bad things happen to good people. Hell, bad things happen to all sorts of people—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
There are a number of folks who write for this site who are attracted by the thinking of the Stoics. (I am one of them, by the way.) The Stoics teach us to expect difficulty and to respond to it dispassionately. To try to keep an even keel when we are tossed about on rough waters. By the way, it is silly to blame the sea for occasionally being rough.
Far too many Americans—this may be true of others living in other countries too—try to “engineer” difficulty out of their lives. They crave comfort (above everything) and think that all one needs to do is think positively when struggles arise. (Thinking that we can do away with hardship by simply filling our minds with positive thoughts is a type of magical thinking.) They see struggle not as part of the natural order but as something that occurs when things go awry. Actually, difficulty arises when things are working as they were intended to work.
When we realize that hardship is life and that life is hardship, we can begin to make important changes in our thinking and behavior. For example, we can begin to respond with less anger and frustration. We can embrace the idea that “shit happens.” When we expect shit, we are never surprised when it shows up. We take it in stride and behave as the Stoics would.
When we realize that hardship is life and that life is hardship, we can free ourselves from the paralyzing notion that some power out there doesn’t love us and is, in fact, giving us a hard time for some unknowable reason. Don’t get me wrong, there are malevolent forces (and people) who do horrible things to those who are utterly innocent and completely undeserving of such. There are victims and victimizers in this world. But spilling my turmeric at the wrong time was not the result of some grand conspiracy being played out against me. Dark forces weren’t at work to make sure I was late for my Zoom meeting.
I look forward to hearing your responses to this blog. Am I wrong? Am I right? What say ye?
Note: The header image is one of my own photographs.
If you like my writing, you can find more here; although, my personal blog certainly needs to be updated. Plus, if you look around a bit, you can find my writing in many places on the internet.