News headlines, predominantly negative and sensational, dominate our lives. We are barraged with news information 24/7 through our smart phones, social media, TV, websites, papers, and magazines. What is the consumption of news media doing to our brain and our outlook on life? Should we choose to avoid the news altogether?
It’s is not a new question to be asking. 2000 years ago, the Roman Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus questioned the effects that negative forms of socialization have in our lives. We, as philosophers, should not worry about the things that most people do as a result of their constant consumption of news media.
“How could we acquire courage if we had merely learned that the things which seem dreadful to the average person are not to be feared, but had no experience in showing courage in the face of such things?” he asks.
You too can exercise the Stoics' ancient brand of philosophical wisdom and not get upset about events in the news. Terrorism? A shooting? Crisis? Corrupt Politicians? Freedom from these concerns can be yours via these 4 important realizations:
The Stoics used a form of meditation or reflective practice, which they may have borrowed from Pythagoreanism. It involves morning and evening meditations.
The morning meditation consists of being grateful for the new day when you wake up. You take a few moments to compose yourself and then think about your plans for the day ahead, imagining how you can make yourself a better person,
while also accepting that some events are beyond your control.
The evening mediation involves a daily retrospective where you think about what you did well during the course of the day, and also reflect on what you could have done better. The aim is personal growth and intentional cultivation of the four Stoic virtues: moderation, courage, fairness, and wisdom.
The Stoics reflective practice probably derived from the earlier Pythagorean school. Not much of Pythagoras' writings survived antiquity, since the school was destroyed by an angry mob, and Pythagoras himself may have been murdered.
What we do know about the Pythagoreans is that like the Stoics, they believed in the protective virtue of moderation, and that a person who wants to grow will naturally align themselves with the good.
This excellent Youtube video by the scholar Manly P. Hall, gives a great overview of the surviving Pythagorean fragments, entitled the Golden Verses of Pythagoras:
The Cynics were ascetic philosophers of the Classical World. All that mattered to them was the practical applicability of wisdom. They were not concerned with theory and taught by the example of their lives, making a virtue of austerity, wit, and counter-culturalism.
They were quite eccentric, often going barefoot and living outside, which is where they picked up the moniker Cynic - based on the Greek word for dog. The most famous Cynic was Diogenes of Sinope. He commented, "I am called a dog because I fawn on those who give me anything, I yelp at those who refuse, and I set my teeth in rascals."
Diogenes was known for his scathing social criticism. He often carried a lantern around Athens in the daytime, claiming to be looking for an honest man. His teacher was Antisthenes, a disciple of Socrates who declared, "I would rather be mad than feel pleasure." Diogenes took the message to heart, voluntarily rejecting property and opining that Godlike men have few wants in life. Diogenes' life influenced Crates, a wealthy heir who abandoned his fortune to live on the streets of Athens. Cynics were also common in Rome later in antiquity.
Think there is nothing that we can learn from this band of wackos? Think again. We need not live a Cynic life ourselves to learn from the Cynic example. The best Cynic teachings offer us fabulous advice for practical living:
While it is probably impossible to prevent all interpersonal conflict, many problems can generally be prevented by being “nice,” which is a simplified term for ethical conduct, kindness, and good character. You will have fewer interpersonal problems in your life if you are as mindful as possible of your own behavior, meaning that you don’t thoughtlessly say and do things that harm others.
I’m actually not the most tactful person by nature. But I have learned from direct experience that improving my tact and self control largely leads to freedom from self inflicted interpersonal problems. What does that mean? Well, the more that you consciously govern your behavior, the less you will say and do things that you regret or that ultimately sabotage your relationships and your happiness.
There are steps that you can take to increase your tact in conversations, and control your own behavior. If these steps do not prevent most conflicts, you still have a right to point out the mistakes and limitations of others if their behavior is hurting you. The downside to free will is that people can misuse it to harm others. People have a right to be wrong, just not to do wrong. Which is why it is essential to have strong personal boundaries when dealing with difficult or unethical people in your life. Here’s How:
Staying calm when I am angry is something that I have always struggled with. The Stoics philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome believed that destructive emotions should not be tolerated in a person of integrity, so it is up to us to work past them.
Staying calm when you feel angry is a mental game that you can master.
Being able to stay calm and assertive regardless of your emotional state protects your character, and is a huge benefit to you in all types of interpersonal communication. When you stay in control, you will not allow yourself to do or say hurtful things which you later regret. And even if someone becomes angry at you, if you stay calm, you can learn to respond appropriately and ethically even under stress.
Growing in Goodness
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Thank you for your interest in Common Sense Ethics! I'm Leah, a librarian and freelance writer with a background in history and philosophy.
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