We’re always told to be mindful of the people around us. Don’t hurt other’s feelings, or offend, we’re told. Well, there’s truth to this. As members of society, we’ve been taught that people are responsible for how they act based on their feelings or how they manage those feelings. But we’re also taught to not stir up people’s feelings. We kind of have it both ways. People can choose to act or not act based on their feelings but at the same time, we shouldn’t push people’s buttons because people are only human.
That’s really not too far away from Stoicism. Stoics were radical in the belief that we could individually learn to manage our emotions far better but they were also mindful of the fact that we’re only human. It’s just not nice to try to injure someone even if they’re the best Stoic you ever crossed paths with.
So are we, for better or worse, at the mercy of our emotions? We are somewhat at their mercy but, with practice, we can lessen their hold on us and their efficacy. The Stoics realized long ago that by judging externals to be morally neutral, we can deescalate our passions such as hate, jealousy, and lust. By deliberately and mindfully discarding the moral importance of all things external, we can free up a lot of our mind from emotions reacting to external events. Also, we can refocus our mind by turning it inward, toward our virtuous character. By working on our character and perfecting it, we can be more relaxed, chill, and logical.
Society almost has it right in the way we should hold ourselves accountable for our own behavior despite having strong passions. And society definitely has it right that we really shouldn’t try to push people’s buttons, at least, if it’s not for the betterment or for some more important effort than mere pushing people’s buttons for buttons’ sake. One thing that all societies throughout time have gotten wrong though is the obsession over externals. Externals are valuable but they’re not the most important thing ever. Also, society is right to say that we should take responsibility for our emotions and not act out on them every time we become angry. But the Stoics offered a better solution to this problem, and that was to pretty much kill off any kind of negative passion. That way you’d be insured to not easily cave to whatever passion you might have. Neutering a passion really goes a long way, it gives someone a freedom they didn’t once have. They don’t have to feel like the dam holding back all that water. The Stoics said to just reduce the level of the water in the first place so that no possible instances of leaking or rupture is even possible.