Contemplating Seneca #36

Maybe we can’t enjoy our friends and family the way we want to now. Maybe the best we can hope for is a text or a phone/video call. Make the most of it. We are fortunate to live in a time when this is possible.

And when we get back to normal, let us not forget what is was like to be separated from the ones we love. Let us embrace our friends and family and enjoy their companionship. When it is once again available to us, remember it is a privilege and one not to be taken for granted.

Chang Duong
Photo by Chang Duong courtesy of Unsplash

Contemplating Seneca #12: Life Is Short for Those…

Ice Ages. Volcanic Eruptions. Earthquakes. Plagues. Famine. The Fury of Mother Nature. The Cosmic Forces of the Universe.

As humans, what can we control?

We can remember the past and learn how to possibly cope with the unavoidable.

We can be present in the moment monitoring our perceptions, controlling our emotions, and acting with intention.

We can look to the future and prepare the best we can. We can hope for the best but realize that our greatest plans are still at the mercy of powers greater than us.

Humans are resilient. They have survived the calamities of the past. They can overcome the threats of tomorrow.

Emperor’s Log #49: Do It Now, Not Tomorrow

What are the things we put off? You know, the things we know we should do just not right now.

  • Exercise
  • Eat better
  • Read
  • Study
  • Clean up

If you think about it, this list for some of us could go on forever. So many things that we should do and can do, but we put off until another day. After the holidays, I will stop eating so much and start a new exercise program. I’ll get around to cleaning the garage when the weather is nicer. On and on and someday maybe, which often turns in to someday never. Unless what you have to do is on a deadline, and then it is a mad scramble to turn in a “not your best” effort.

Imagine the benefits of starting now. Imagine the satisfaction of knowing at least it is over and done with. Could you be better off if you did right now what you want to put off until tomorrow? I know I could be better.

You could do good today, but instead you wait until tomorrow. –Marcus Aurelius

Examining Epictetus #31: Foolish Delay

The tanks lined up baking in the Georgia sun. Soldiers were trying to find ways to best pass the time. Some were napping, others playing cards, and one was reading. I asked him if it was any good when he finished it. He said it wasn’t bad and then offered it to me. I accepted it desperately looking for something to do to take my mind off the monotony of the day.

It was The Tale of the Body Thief, one of the Vampire Chronicle books by Anne Rice. I remembered watching the movie in the theater a few years before. I enjoyed the movie and thought why not give this book a try. It was the first time since High School that I picked up a book to read solely for pleasure. The year was 1998 and became one the turning points in my life.

That year, I caught a bug. It was a reading bug that I hadn’t had since my elementary days. After finishing that book, I proceeded to read all the Vampire books. Then I read all of Rice’s witch books. Over the next few years, I discovered Wilbur Smith, George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan, and Bernard Cornwell, and read all the books I could get from them. When I was took a break from them, I went back to classics: Dickens and Dumas with a little Hemingway.

Then a time came in my life when I thought I could do that too. I could be a writer. And so I started to write. The ideas came from all over the place. I thought they were good. But my writing, it was bad. I struggled to convey my thoughts into words that would flow effortlessly onto paper. Yet I was determined to be a writer. After all, I had already told my closest friends that this was finally the calling in my life I had always been waiting for. I was going to make it work.

Then one day a seed of doubt entered my mind. I imagined all these writers were aged men and women of wisdom. I imagined that they had all lived lives full of experience, and only in their twilight years were they able to create their masterpieces. Who was I, one so young and naïve, to be able to compete with that? I had no life-skills other than that of an infantryman. Of the world, I knew very little. I was simply not ready to be a writer.

If you wish to be a writer, write. –Epictetus

I should have taken the philosopher’s advice. What I wanted to do wasn’t supposed to be easy. I wasn’t naturally talented, and at the time I lacked the discipline to keep practicing. When the motivation wore off, I postponed my dreams with the lame excuse of not being experienced enough. And how exactly was I going to get that experience if I wasn’t writing?

There is a silver lining in all of this reminiscing of a misspent dream. Somewhere deep within, I maintained a glimmer of hope that I could still be a writer. My appetite for reading never wavered, and in that I was still developing my literary mind. Of course if I would have kept practicing, my skills as a writer could have been much better. But as much as it pains me to think on this revelation, there is nothing I can do about it. The past is gone, never to be relived. But today, and the days to come, that is another story. That time is not yet spent and can be utilized toward that endeavor. I can become who I dream of being. I can become more disciplined. I can practice this craft and be the best I can be.

Epictetus asked, “How long are you going to wait before you demand the best of yourself?” It is a wise question worth keeping in mind. When standing before the Almighty on the Day of Judgment, you will not be asked how you measured up to your peers and fellow humans. There will be no comparison of bank accounts and social media likes on St. Peter’s ledgers. But if the Master asks you what you did with the talents He gave you, how will you answer? Will you say you buried them and kept them safe? Or will you take the talents you have been given and invest in them and let them grow? You can be a good steward of the gifts you have been given or you can be the lazy one? In the beginning I was the lazy one, but thankfully my eyes were opened before it was too late. In that I was fortunate to be given a second chance.

Emperor’s Log #43: To Revenge Not

Monday night, I caught a little of the Cleveland Browns vs. San Francisco 49ers football game. In this one-sided affair one incident really stood out to me. Rookie defensive end Nick Bosa of the 49ers sacked the Browns quarterback, Baker Mayfield. It was an excellent play. Bosa then got up and waved an imaginary flag and planted. This was to mock Mayfield’s notorious flag planting of the Oklahoma flag on the fifty yard line of Ohio stadium. That incident happened two years ago, and must have really stung the pride of Bosa. But finally, he got his revenge of national television.

I admit it is a silly analogy in terms of real-life revenge.

Revenge (rəˈvenj) n. to avenge (oneself or another) usually by retaliating in kind or degree. [Merriam-Webster]

I imagine forms of revenge often. Usually for very petty things. I perceive injustices toward me despite the often non-malicious intentions of the offender. When I look back at the acts of actual revenge I carried out in my youth, I can’t help but think how foolish I really was. In truth, the only injury I sustained was to my pride.

Thinking back on football. When there is a scuffle, who is usually the one that gets the flag? It is the one that retaliated. A simple act of revenge that costs the whole team, because the player had to get back at the instigator. He could have just let it go, but instead he allowed his pride to interfere with sound judgment.


Message to my son:

Revenge is a dish best served not at all. You don’t have to get back. The best statement you can make is to go about your business and not seek retribution. In the end, everything will work out. Let karma do its work without your interference. By not retaliating, you will heap coals on the head of your offender and come away blameless.

The best revenge is to not be like that. –Marcus Aurelius

Examining Epictetus #25: Live Your Philosophy

We all have our personal truths that we believe beyond a shadow of a doubt. It could be our faith, politics, or something on a smaller scale such as nutrition or how to live a good life. We could try to explain our beliefs to others and convince them with our words. But if you really want others to share in your truth, you must show them by your actions.

One of the books I am reading right now is Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I’m am about halfway through, and though the subject matter might be a little over my comprehension level (a lot of google involved), I am doing my best to make it through. In the book, the author speaks of those who make decisions but do not have to live with the consequences. Think of politicians who never pay the consequences for their decisions. But the real heroes in the world are the ones who take the risks and live with the consequences, whether good or bad.

To have skin in the game of whatever philosophy you believe in, you must live it, not just speak about it.

Contemplating Seneca #58: Wasted Mental Effort

There have been many times that I have played the scenario out in my head. Stricken with anxiety, I mentally act out each step. How will it go down? How can I prevent the inevitable? When the trial has come and gone, it rarely was ever as bad as I imagined it. All the stress was for no reason. It was wasted mental effort that could have been put to better use.

We are not fortune tellers. We cannot predict the future. No good comes from imagining and then expecting the worse case scenarios to come true. What happens, happens. We can prepare daily to overcome any obstacles thrown our way. But to live them out before they occur is an exercise in futility.

Emperor’s Log #37: Don’t Stand by the Wayside

Nothing is not an option for the just man.

Standing by the wayside saying your hands are clean of evil is not an option when an injustice is being done in your presence. To do nothing is to be complicit in the deed itself. Take hold of your courage and act, while it is in your power to do so.

Daniel was running for his life. Clear the fence and he would be free. But before he could get over, the Cobra Kai bullies caught up to him and pulled him back down. Imagine as Daniel took the beating, the old maintenance man sat in his room listening. Imagine him having the power to intervene but choosing not to. The movie would be one of tragedy, not a tale of an outsider finding a mentor and defying the odds and winning the All-City Karate Tournament. But Mr. Miyagi did not sit idly by in his apartment. He chose not to commit injustice by doing nothing, but rather to do the noble thing. He chose to stand up for justice.

I was nine years old when I first watched The Karate Kid. I remember cheering with the rest of the crowd when Daniel-san landed his crane kick. Some memories just don’t go away. It was a time when the bad guy wasn’t the hero to be idolized. No, the real hero was the one who overcame his fear and released himself from the shackles of victim-hood. And the other hero in The Karate Kid, maybe the real hero, was the one who did not stand on the sidelines but acted when the time came.

And you can also commit injustice by doing nothing. -Marcus Aurelius

The Virtue of Justice

What does it mean to live a just life? If right thoughts and right actions equal righteousness, can we be righteous? Our hope is that others treat us with justice. This of course is no guarantee, but it does not change our responsibilities. It is our responsibility to be honest in our deeds and in our words, and that we treat others with justice.

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Contemplating Seneca #63: Your Motive

When you exercise, who are you exercising for? When you go to the gym, are you there to get in shape or to impress others?

This was the discussion I had last week with several colleagues.What is the motivation behind some of the antics seen in the gym? Too often, we see some ridiculous feat and wonder if it is really necessary. Is this act in line with the person’s fitness goals or is it to show off to people who are most likely not even watching?

When you’re 20 you care what everybody thinks, when you’re 40 you stop caring what everyone thinks, when you’re 60 you realize no one was ever thinking about you in the first place. –Winston Churchill

As I wonder about these oddities, I have to question my own actions. How many times have I been out running and stood a little taller or ran a little faster because I thought someone might be watching? I should be running for myself and for my own fitness. Why do I care what others may think? I am not running for them.

Let philosophy scrape off your own faults, rather than be a way to rail against the faults of others. –Seneca

What is my motivation for studying philosophy? When I study the virtuous life, who am I studying for? Of course, I want to share with others all the fabulous lessons I am learning. But at the end of the day, I study the virtues so that I may become more virtuous.

As I increase in my learning, the temptation is to judge others who are marching to a different tune. What difference does it make to me? They are accountable to themselves, and I to myself. I should willingly help them if they wish, but I should not judge them. The study of philosophy is for me to grow and improve as a human. It is not for me to flex my intellectual muscles in front of all those who come near me. Chances are, they are not even watching.