my basic personal philosophy is as follows: try to be a good person. it’s been the same for as long as i can remember. i suspect that i am genetically predisposed to niceness. there are worse qualities to be in possession of.
i’ve spent a lot of time looking for a group or religion that was based on the same belief. that held as important all the qualities that i thought were vital, qualities that combine together to make a good person.
i was raised anglican but lapsed by the time i hit double digits. my affection for that group was a casualty of the marriage rights debates. i was also a born-again evangelical for a while, after attending a religious camp with a friend for a week one summer. that faded quickly: i found the intolerance and lack of affection for science incompatible with my core beliefs.
i studied up on buddhism, and looked into wicca. i admit to hoping i’d find out i was magic. i checked out some of the new age paths. i learned about the chakras and spent time collecting crystals in the hopes i’d find religion in the rocks.
none of it took. i liked bits and pieces of each but i couldn’t reconcile the whole of them with my belief system.
i could have tried to change the way i think about things, i suppose, but it never occurred to me. honestly, i really didn’t want to. i like my beliefs. i’m a fan. a few years ago i finally gave up searching. i decided i would be a community of one, with similarities to many but no core group to fall back on or to help sustain me. no manual either. however, as luck would have it, i found something by accident.
i stumbled across stoicism online via a rather appealing meme and i liked it. the whole of the philosophy is built around the idea that people should try to live a virtuous, or good, life. unlike some of the other schools i examined, it was on board with the idea of a higher power. i want to believe that there’s more out there than just this.
i like that stoics made an effort to define the characteristics that make up a good life. i’ve tried to summarize my personal philosophy in the past but i was too focused on specifics. i lacked a set of general rules. instead i had commandments that i would regularly add to and share with people should they ask me about my belief system. rules like be accepting of other people; walk lightly on the earth; support the idea of bodily autonomy; and don’t kill people. essentially harm none. your basic liberal, left of the political spectrum, semi new-age-y talking points.
stoic philosophers believed that you needed to be a good person and they took the next step – they came up with rules: be wise; be fair and just; live a moderate and temperate life; be brave. the more i read, the more it resonated. it felt right to me.
i struggle, however, with some of the parts. one of the main tenets directs people to only concern themselves with those things that are in their control. it turns out that shockingly few things are. the things that are not in our control, that is, almost everything outside of our thoughts and actions, should be considered as things indifferent to us.
using that definition, one can see how the stoic ideal of living only in the present developed. the present is under control. other places and times are not. we cannot change the past and the future is still unformed so we should be indifferent to both of these things.
i appreciate that idea in theory but it’s hard to put into practice. anxiety and ptsd throw me into the future all too often. they make it hard to live in the here and now. i worry and obsess over what might be. that is not an example of staying focused on only those things that are in control.
i struggle with the past. some of my memories are killers. as mentioned, i’ve always tried to be a good person. i believe it’s important for people to be kind, just, honest, and fair. i have a well-developed conscience that helps me stay on track; she pipes up often. i may name her. unfortunately, she can’t let go of the past either. she reminds me in excruciatingly vivid detail of those times where i fell short in my efforts. my history of mental illnesses in general, and my eating disorder in particular means i fell short a great many times.
guilt over things done in the past is definitely not stoic. what’s done is beyond fixing so ideally and stoically, i should let it go, but i find that i can’t quite, not just yet. there was too much lying and deceiving. there are too many sins to count. the past is a monster at times, rising up and threatening the present.
i want to let those things go. i need to, i know, if i want to move on and develop into a better, trying to be good, person
if i was listening to someone else’s story and they were telling me about the things they’d done, even if their story was familiar, even if they did nearly identical things to those that i still punish myself for, i’d tell them to let the past go. i’d tell them to make amends were necessary, and come to terms with their history.
i’d tell them that they probably did the best they could in those moments, with the tools they had available, to stay alive. i’d tell them that it’s okay to let go. that it’s okay to forgive yourself and move on. i’d tell them to stay in the present, to focus on what they’ve learned and are learning. i’d tell them to focus on their recovery. i’d tell them they’re a good person.
it’s always harder to do for yourself the things you do for others. even when you are trying to be a good person.
january 15, 2018