The Wrong We Inflict

So I was scrolling through Seneca’s Letters from A Stoic to look for something tangible to tie my day together, one marred by the random lies and misdeeds of others leading to these peoples’ own questioning of how and why they are perceived poorly, unable to understand or be at least self aware but trapped in a state of anxiety for it.

“Never do wrong to others takes one a long way towards peace of mind. People who know no self-restraint lead stormy and disordered lives, passing their time in a state of fear commensurate with the injuries they do to others, never able to relax. After every act that tremble, paralysed, their consciences continually demanding an answer, not allowing them to get on with other things. To expect punishment is to suffer it; and to earn it is to expect it. Where there is a bad conscience, some circumstance or other may provide one with impunity, but never with freedom from anxiety; for a person takes the attitude that even if he isn’t found out, there’s always the possibility of it. His sleep is troubled. Whenever he talks about someone else’s misdeeds he thinks of his own, which seems t him all too inadequately hidden, all to inadequately blotted out of people’s memories. A guilty person sometimes has the luck to escape detection, but never to feel sure of it.” – Letters from a Stoic, CVII

There’s a lot in that that feels a little directed at me for my own mistakes in the past where a machiavellian tendency and self-destructive lashing out led to finding myself in numerous vulnerable situations both physically and morally.

Yet, reflecting on this, I look at those from my day, reflecting on their actions and choices too as well as my own remembering truly that he who is without sin should cast the first stone. Yet it seems all too common in the modern climate to rush to make false apology videos for wrong doing as a confessional, as if the court of public opinion and own soul will absolve someone of their sins as quickly as their Hail Mary’s will. Actions like lying about illness or threatening others with no other reason than those self-serving seem to be common place. How far have we come that we feel so powerless in our own lives that we must pretend to be dying for a little social control? I’ve seen two cases of this in a week, not even that: three days.

Often, I believe, in 2021, it’s not our actions that follow us it’s the lies we tell to hide the truth of the action that weighs heavier not just on the self but also in people’s minds. If someone does wrong and admits to that, the situation is dealt with and often people move on, yet the cover up of an act is seen as more unforgivable than the act itself. Look above to Seneca: “never freedom from anxiety“.

So, when I say wrong in the title, in reference to inflicting wrong, we have to ask first what that means. Just punishments are teaching moments and quips and remarks sure, who hasn’t done those things in service of the greater good even with an air of emotion to them? Even telling someone to piss off is even rather blunt tool to demonstrate that now is the time for solitude but people tend not to want to hear that. When we talk about inflicting wrong here, as Seneca speaks about is the case of acting in a way that serves only vice and that exists to subvert the natural way of being, rejecting all the maxims of what it means to at least try to act in a virtuous way. The list is rather long.

So what do we do in these situations, if we inflict wrong? Other than take time to improve and to reflect on this action and take responsibility for it, not much. The gratification of forgiveness from those we wrong is self serving and unfulfilling even when our actions are exposed. So we apologise not for ourselves but for the people we have wronged as a sincere notice of reflection and implication that all efforts will be made to not do that thing again. You can’t unring a bell or unfuck your partner’s friend (or whatever), so realistically the only thing we can take responsibility for is the self and self improvement not the hurt inflicted because that is often immeasurable. It’s easier said than done, yet with all things, it’s the journey not destination that matters most as the destination for all of us is that very long sleep.

Z3N0

Humble Pie

Apologising has become such a dirty word as if it’s ingrained in us to fight to the very last than admit we have been wrong. There’s this pervasive feeling that when we expose our flaws to people who see them, or even admit to ourselves that we see them, that we will be hung, drawn and quartered for our admission. Fuck that. The truth is that eating humble pie is brave and necessary for our own growth. Before we can begin to take steps into the light of virtue, we must first accept our own vice.

The Catholics have been doing this for nearly 2000 years in the form of confessional. Personally, for me, this is a flawed concept. While confessing in sins and passing them to God for judgement, we are absolving ourselves of the responsibility for those actions. Worse yet, we expect the priest to absolve us – a member of the clergy who is as human as us. Perhaps I’m being cynical on that and it’s more wholesome and stoic than I give it credit for. Perhaps it is a case of any step is the right step when confronting our own mistakes.

Today, I upset a friend. I’ve spoken about this friend before but I was insensitive towards them in this case and made them feel uncomfortable. I could not think about anything else than to apologise for my words and put right what I did wrong. How could I not? What pointless pride would stop me? In the past I’ve struggled and fought with the words “I’m sorry” for what purpose? All the fear of that has done is killed friendships and slowed my own growth. What’s stopping any of us from seeing wrong in our actions. After all, inherently there is no wrong or right, only the consequences of what we do. So if those consequences are to the detriment of another or ourselves, it is our moral duty as human beings, as expressions of the universal Whole, to eat the humble pie and apologise for that.

“Please always call me out when I go wrong.” – Z

I’m quoting myself here quite shamelessly, words I spoke not even 7 hours ago. It’s a simple request to my friend and one I expect follow through on. Is it not something we should all expect? How can we ever return to the middle path when blinded by our own experience if we can’t allow someone to help us. An apology is that acknowledgement. Contrition is acceptance of the flaws within us all. Even the most perfect stoic, should understand that apologising and accepting perception of their action from within and without is a virtue.

My friends words to my blunt questioning:

Ask me different next time.” – X

I learned from this. I will ask about the topic that we were talking about with a gentler hand and tact. They showed me a better way to be and I will evolve accordingly. If I had been an arrogant idiot and said something like “no fuck you, I’ll say what I like” the relationship would have been killed then and there. Or perhaps not, it would instead lead to animosity and a lot more effort for something that would have been avoided had I just accepted my own wrong doing and faced it.

“If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one’s own self-deception and ignorance.” – Meditations 6.21

To be a stoic not only means accepting of things what we cannot control but also of what we do control, accepting change within ourselves for the betterment of all around us. Disregard the taboo of admitting fault, of looking into the mirror to see warts and all. Experience growth in your mistakes and live a better life.

So, to be brief: un-bite your lip and eat your humble pie, it’s good for you.

Z3N0