The year of being a good person.

I find it frustrating that the things not in my control, aren’t in my control. If they were, it would make life so much easier.

If I could just control all the random. If I could just control other people. If I could just control my body. Then life would be perfect. Everything would be the way I want it. And, modesty aside, I think things would run really well. I really want life to work that way.

Unfortunately, getting what you want isn’t what life is about. There’s more to it than that which is why, I suppose, getting what you want is not a primary goal in any of the major religions or philosophies.

At any rate, letting go is currently one of my goals. Which is not the same as gritting my teeth and pretending I’m letting go while in my head I’m thinking about all the ways I’d do it differently and better. Truly letting go and focusing only on things in your control is much harder than simply holding your tongue.

I have a few new ones in addition to learning to let go of what’s not in my control and together they make up the New Year’s resolution which is not a resolution. I don’t make resolutions; I do theme years instead. Last year was the year of boundaries. It went pretty well overall. I’m better at recognizing and enforcing them. I’m also better at saying no, an important part of boundary preservation.

This year’s it’s the year of being a good person (philosophically speaking). It’s going to be about trying to be wise, courageous, temperate, and just, which is how Stoics define living a good life/being a good person. There are practices that go along with the goal; one of the important ones is the aforementioned letting go of the things we don’t and can’t control.

Another is remembering death. Contemplating death, its inevitability and our essential ephemeralness, is something that many religions and philosophies recommend. In Stoicism, it’s Memento mori. Remember death. Think about the unknown number of days allotted to you. Think about the finality of your existence. Live fully because you don’t know how long you have. Accept mortality with grace and relief. There are advantages to being mortal, to really knowing that we are finite. It’s a good motivator. It reminds us to make good use of our time; there are no guarantees. We could be gone tomorrow.

I’ve been working on both of these things in a somewhat haphazard fashion. I read about them often, primarily in Stoic and Buddhist writings. My December Stoic readings (from The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday) talked about remembering death every day for a month. But, it’s a new year in a new century and now I’ve got a theme to live up to rather than a vague wish and hope. So, I’m planning for some evolution.

I also want to make more use of Meditatio Malorum. It means, think about what you’re going to be doing and think about all the things that might go wrong. Prepare for the challenges; prepare for the difficulties; prepare your response. Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and much-admired Stoic, would remind himself daily that he would no doubt be encountering people who are “meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly”. He used this preplanning to reminded himself that the behaviours and problems he encountered should have no effect on him. Anticipation allowed him to be prepared and deal with challenges in an admirable fashion. 

I’ve used Meditatio Malorum before, in a narrow sort of way. Mostly to envision problems that might arise either when I go shopping or when I have to drive for an extended period. With the former, I think about what might happen with other people, visualize what shopping will be like. I rehearse things I might encounter and what my responses will be. It soothes the anxiety some.

With the latter, I think about other drivers and things that might occur on the open road.

Driving can be frustrating. The roads are congested and rude and bad drivers abound. Sometimes I react in kind, getting angry and aggressive. I’ve found, however, that rehearsing the problems I will encounter allows me to maintain a state of semi-grace. I don’t get as pissed off. I meet nearly everything with a shrug. It’s nice: the trip is far less stressful, far less tense which means I’m a better me when I get to wherever it is I’m going.

I don’t like to get angry and lose my temper. It’s hard to feel like a good person who’s wise, courageous, temperate, and just when you’re flipping off a driver for being too slow. I want to like the person I am more consistently. I think the year of being a good person might help accomplish that too.

Lastly, at least for now – no doubt other things will arise as the year progresses – I want to expand my meditation practice. Stoics recommend it for morning and night with the latter being a contemplation of the day; evaluate how it went and what you might do to improve. A daily debrief of sorts. Debriefing works pretty well for professional sports teams in preparation for the next game. And, what is life but a game we’re all obliged to play?

Do you have resolutions or themes for 2020?

11 thoughts on “The year of being a good person.

  1. I think being a better person should be something that we all strive for every single day of our lives. It’s not always going to happen, but we should give it our best shot.

    I’m not sure if I like the idea of imagining bad things and rehearsing. That would just unnecessarily frustrate me. Why think of something that might NOT happen?

    I used to have a bad temper. I believe it’s gotten better over the past couple of years, but I am nowhere near Buddha 10% of the time. Have you ever gotten angry with people who don’t get angry when you think they should? I know I do. It bothers me when I see people who are so calm that they don’t react at all to something that makes my blood boil. I don’t see it as a restraint from their side. I see it as willful ignorance and permission for all the bad in the world.

    How do you maintain the balance between being zen and not letting evil and stupidity widen?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It would be nice if being a better person was a goal everyone could get behind. It always surprises me when it isn’t.

      I don’t know if the meditario malorum works for everyone but for me, it significantly helps with anxiety which gets exacerbated by my unrealistic imaginings. When I picture the worse and practice what I might do, it calms me, reminds me that I can handle the world and problems that might arise.

      I relate to the bad temper, and to the frustration of getting angry when the other person doesn’t. But the reading I’ve done so far has been helpful as has therapy and recognizing that often, under my anger is something else. Thinking about what I’m thinking, the validity of it, is also helpful.

      I still don’t let stupidity and evil go. It’s not about that. It’s more about having and maintaining equanimity as I encounter it, present reasonable arguments, and reminding myself that the outcome is out of my control. But again, I’m less successful on social media where so many feel free to be their basest selves. It is difficult not to get to the point where you want to react in kind.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I don’t like to lose my temper either. It doesn’t happen very often. I am still struggling to assert for my own rights and respect while opting for kindness but there are people that just don’t offer that courtesy to others and it is frustrating.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love your writing EM. I recently got interested in stoicism myself. Amazing how much wonderful wisdom came from the likes of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus just to name a few. Keep up the great work.

    Liked by 1 person

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