Stoic Musings: Acceptance vs. Passivity. What’s The Difference?

So, Wednesday, and we’ve got two out of five pieces to the puzzle I’m trying to work into my thought process.

Control what you can.  Ignore the rest.

Events don’t upset you.  Beliefs do.

Now we come to number three, which is where things really started coming together for me.  Because while the two pieces help, without this third piece, well, I spent years spinning my wheels on a variety of beliefs that wasted a lot of energy, a lot of pain, and just didn’t work.

Accept everything.  But don’t be passive.

So what does it mean to…

Accept Everything

All of this will come to you in life. What you do with it? That is choice.

“Denial is just a river in Egypt.”  Ever heard that one?  Most of us have.  And if you haven’t the idiom presents the idea that to deny something that has affected us is both unwise and unhealthy.  Yet to embrace acceptance is to be seen as weak, for a pervasive, subconscious idea exists that to accept a thing has occurred must mean that we agree, condone, or in some other way approve of that thing occurring.

To divert momentarily into politics, take the numerous individuals who stated, “I will not accept it if X candidate is elected to the presidency!”  As if to say that by accepting such an event, they would be admitting some character flaw or agreement with that candidate or what have you.

Yet every four years someone is elected president in the United States that several million people don’t want as president.

So how does this relate to acceptance?  Well, it’s a simple example.  Once the candidate is elected, we have two choices.  Accept that the candidate is now President Elect, or deny it.

This is the same with any event in our lives.  We may either accept that the event has transpired, or we may attempt to deny it.  A major diagnosis, a death in the family, a horrific car accident.  If we accept that these things have occurred, does this truly mean we wanted them?  I doubt it.  I didn’t want a lot of the events in my life.  Some events I wanted have never transpired.

I WANTED a troubling result on my thyroid blood work, because then I’d have a physical reason for the depression that at times has turned my ability to function on its head.  Blood work came back normal.  I can deny that, though the consequences would undoubtedly be less than ideal.

You see, acceptance in terms of Stoic thought is nothing more than recognizing the inevitable.  Events are, in fact, inevitable.  Triumph and tragedy both are inevitable.  Your actions harming others and the actions of others harming you are inevitable.  By the same measure, your actions and the actions of others aiding you are inevitable as well.

Why are you looking at me like I’ve suddenly become a nihilist?  Think about it.  Have you ever been able to prevent a bully from being a bully?  Have you ever had someone help you just because they could?

My point is, we cannot stop events from occurring, and we can’t choose the nature of events that occur because of forces outside of our actions.  That doesn’t mean we must resign ourselves to being doormats, either.

But Don’t Be Passive

Our beliefs are the door mat to our mind and emotions.  We covered this a bit yesterday.  Crafting our beliefs is part of our actions.  Those actions are vital to this piece of the puzzle.  That wreck left you unable to work the same job?  Accept.  Now ACT.

What will you DO now?

Often in the movies, this question is asked in an almost pitying tone, yet it doesn’t need to be.  I didn’t get the job I wanted?  That was the choice of the hiring manager.  What will my actions be now?

Certainly I could come home and wallow in self pity, waiting for another depressive episode to overwhelm me.  Or I could take a shower, turn on some music, and start writing.  The first is a reaction, embracing passivity.  The second is an acceptance that no, I didn’t get that job.  That means only as much as I allow it to mean to me.

Beginning To Put The Pieces Together

So this is the big one I’m working on right now, because a big part of it is learning to accept one of the truths that we so often shy away from.  That my thinking and beliefs may be flawed in one way or another.  Because my beliefs drive both my reactions to events and my actions in an attempt to influence or control events.

Most of us like to believe we’re capable of seeing things from a logical perspective, and drawing conclusions from there, and yet, speaking from my own experience especially, we find ourselves unwilling to examine the possibility that some of our deepest pains might come from flawed beliefs.

Is it because the belief is too hard to find?  Too painful to confront?  For me, it was because I just couldn’t imagine that I might need a different belief altogether.  I’d like to hear your ideas in the comments.

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