December 05, 2016
The Stoic Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote in his Meditations: “The universe is change. Life is opinion.”
I have been reading a quote every morning, from the book, “The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living,” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman.
That the quote on November 9, the day after the 2016 U.S. election, when Donald Trump, who pollsters said had a very small chance of victory, won. The stock market didn’t think he’d win, so it’s falling.
“The universe is change. Life is opinion.” Ironically, those words from centuries ago couldn’t ring more true. Americans elected Trump because he promised change and they startled the world with their choice.
Some Americans are hopeful that things now finally will change for the better. Others see only the prospect for worse. None of us know what will happen.
What do you do when there are deep political disagreements within your family or close circle? What will happen to those relationships? Remember the second half of the quote, “Life is opinion.” It’s an invitation to be less certain that your opinions about other people are worth clinging to.
Maybe you’re thrilled that the people with the Ivy League degrees like Hillary Clinton actually didn’t get their way this time. She reminds you of your sister, who always thought she was smarter and more virtuous than you, and is thunderstruck that Clinton didn’t win. You can see the contempt for you in her eyes. You feel anger and contempt for her arrogance.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean we accept bad behavior or refuse to see it. But people are happier and healthier when they don’t dwell on judgments or hard feelings. Instead, we can think about how to bring joy into our own worlds, though our own responses and choices.
As you’ll hear over and over, we need the country to come together to decide on policies that actually address the discontent that the election expressed so loudly. How can you contribute? You can start in your own circle, not necessarily by discussing politics, but by finding ways to live peaceably with each other.
Remember that “The universe is change.” Sometimes we are disappointed in each other because we didn’t realize that the other person was changing. Or you hoped someone you care about was coming over to your views, and then you realized it wasn’t happening now. You can’t control those changes in others.
Epictetus, another ancient Stoic, inspired the well-known Serenity prayer, “God grant me the wisdom to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The way he put it was, “Some things are in our control, while others are not. We control our opinions, choice, desire, aversion, and, in a word, everything of our own doing. We don’t control… everything not of our own doing.”
Tuesday night, the people in my world were horrified that Trump won. When I go for my morning bike ride, here in New York City, I pass a big set of Trump Towers, apartment complexes. They’ve made me cringe for years. They’re just too big, ugly, and pushy, which matched my association with the man.
But I have friends whose parents, usually living elsewhere, supported Trump. It might be easy for them to harbor thoughts like, “My Dad always thought my brothers deserved more freedom and respect than I did, and now he voted for a man who thinks it’s okay to boast about assaulting women.” Or, “My mom can’t handle debt and she blames Mexicans for our financial troubles.”
If you’re having those kinds of thoughts, consider that taking a stance on politics won’t necessarily make you freer. You may still resent the influence these people have had on you. Epictetus would advise you to change your own attitudes about women and men, and let your Dad keep his. Or you might take more responsibility for your own finances, knowing you may have to help out your mother soon.
Now is not the time to gloat over the losers, or despise the winners. Cultivate your own garden. Do what you can to thrive in a changeable universe.