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.


Another Test

Last night I was tested again in my faith of the universe and my own philosophy. Marcus Aurelius talks about life being cyclical and what shook me has happened before. It was almost familiar, the gut wrenching feeling and chill of the blood. I knew the sensation immediately yet it was worse this time, much more physical. It was almost as if my mind had checked out; electing to fuck off and let the body do it’s thing while it disconnects and turns inward.

By all stoic accounts, I handled it poorly: drank a lot and spiralled into over thinking. Yet it took a near stranger to put things into perspective. Her words echoed the philosopher in my head that was drowned by cortisol. It’s funny as without this event, I’m not sure I’d have had the opportunity to talk to this person in such a candid way and connect with a stranger on the internet to become friends (or at least friendly).

“All that happens is an event either within your natural ability to bear it, or not” Meditations 10.3

Did I pass the test? Or did I pass it at my own standards? The damage to a reputation of a man several years dead means nothing to me as he no longer exists. The person writing this as we speak is fresh and new and his reputation has no bearing on me now. False narratives created to hurt a man long dead is meaningless, the only person affected is the malignant story teller. It’s not my virtue affected, it’s theirs. How many others can speak of this? How many other people on the planet who have evolved from caterpillar to moth must still carry the sins of the larvae? Perhaps I’m being too fast, perhaps I’m still gestating in the chrysalis.

My friends tried to make me see this yet it was the words of a stranger that I am truly bloody grateful for.

“Lying, too, is a sin against the same goddess: her name is Truth, and she is the original cause of all that is true. The conscious liar sins to the extent that his deceit causes injustice: the unconscious liar to the extent that he is out of tune with the nature of the Whole and out of order with the nature of the ordered universe against which he fights.” Meditations 9.1.2

I was a prolific liar, a conscious one who cared little for the injustices around me. Differentiating not giving a fuck and being generally a fucker was a talent lost on me. So when I hear of lies, conscious or unconscious, can I really judge? I know the damage they can cause in the material world but in my soul, do I have the right to feel anything other than pity? Failing that: apathy.

“He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.” – Jesus, John 8:7

And so:

“There is no blame. If you can, put him right: if you can’t, at least put the matter right. If that too is impossible, what further purpose does blame serve?”Meditations 8.17

Maybe one day, I’ll have to face the consequences of the lies of another in person. When that day comes, it’s not the alleger that’ll be my priority, it will be the consequences. Even then, what use is it worrying about now? What use is another’s false feelings about me to me?

After all, it’s 2021. It’s far simpler than it used to be when it comes to shutting out the noise. Two words on every device connected to the internet: shut down.