As I’ve quoted before in this blog, someone has said that our problems won’t kill us but the way we think about them might.
The corollary to that is this: we can face anything. We can overcome anything. We are human beings—creative and resilient—and we are bigger than any problem.
But knowing that is one thing. Doing it is another.
And who better to give us some tips on how to do that than a man who was a slave and also a philosopher.
Epictetus, a Roman slave, lived in the first century A.D. He was also a Stoic philosopher who believed that the key to handling anything in life is to carry it by the right handle. He put it like this:
“Everything has two handles, by one of which it ought to be carried and by the other not. If your brother wrongs you, do not lay hold of the matter by the handle of the wrong that he is doing…but rather by the other handle—that he is your brother…and then you will be laying hold of the matter by the handle by which it ought to be carried.”
I like this thought, this strategy. It’s certainly worth exploring and experimenting with.
It’s good to know that if a problem is dragging me down, weighing me down, making me anxious…I can step back, take another look, think a little differently…and maybe grab it by a different handle.
“Sometimes my job—and my life—feels like one long inconvenience.”
Ever felt that way? Chew on these words from G. K. Chesterton:
“An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered. But an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.”
So, you might take a look at some of those inconveniences in your life and…
…choose your own adventure.
At the very least, this might make things a little…less…tedious.
The world is big, messy, complicated, crowded and noisy. How can one ordinary person even make a dent, much less a difference?
I take encouragement from these words of educator Marion Wright Edelman:
“We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.
Small daily differences. That’s a strategy we can all get hold of.
Like bringing some extra effort, enthusiasm and creativity to a difficult task
…or bringing a little humor to help defuse a tense situation
…or saying something meaningful at the dinner table
…or listening truly and deeply
…or rising above frustrations and disappointments to be a joyful presence
And on and on we could go. At the end of the day, we may find that the small daily differences matter more than we think.
Like the young student who told her teacher, “I like myself better when I’m around you.”
Or like the writer Aldous Huxley who, near the end of his life, said:
“It’s a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than ‘Try to be a little kinder.’”
If you could be any animal, what kind would you be?
Nobel prize-winning author William Faulkner was asked that question and said: “I would be a vulture; it always has plenty of food and everyone leaves it alone.” Faulkner had experienced the downside of fame.
Of course, the truth is that you are a special kind of animal—a human being. And what kind of animal is that?
William Hazlitt, the English writer and essayist talks about that:
“Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between the way things are and the way they ought to be.”
Obvious? Perhaps. But I find this little reminder strangely reassuring. Somehow, it’s relieving to be reminded that…
It’s human to enjoy…but it’s also human to have pain and heartache.
It’s human to be disturbed about the violence and senselessness in the world. It’s also human to love the world and find it beautiful and mysterious.
It’s human to be confused and uncertain. It’s also human to believe in the highest and the best.
It’s human to have high ideals and values. But it’s also human to be irritated and frustrated by little things.
It’s human to have relationships we cherish. And it’s human to struggle in those relationships.
It’s human to love work. And it’s human to be stressed by work.
It’s human to achieve and succeed. And it’s human to fail. Everyone fails.
It’s human to think, feel, change, dream, act, create.
For all those reasons, it’s important to keep reminding ourselves that a human being is the most valuable thing in the world, and that to be human may be our most important job: it’s a perplexing, troubling, but joyful, beautiful task.
And as a footnote: no one has ever done “being human” quite the way you are doing it. Ever.