Hi folks! I’m still not ready to get back in full swing when it comes to posting, but there is something that I wanted to reflect on. I don’t know it this story will help anyone, but I wanted to get it off my chest.
First of all, my transfer was accepted and I’ll be starting my new job sometime this month since my current job can still hold me for up to 30 days or until my current manager releases me. Yay! So that worked out. However, my mom was very much against me applying to the new job despite it being a higher starting pay than my current job and, more importantly, sans maggots and sans shady contractors. She’s still skeptical, but what really hurt my feelings was when I told her I was applying for the job she basically told that I was “over reacting” and “running away” from my problems and she threw Stoic Philosophy in my face and that really wasn’t necessary and not very Stoic of her. I didn’t save the text message she wrote because I didn’t need to hold on to that negativity and it was really painful for me to read.
For those who aren’t familiar, Stoicism is an Ancient Hellenistic Philosophy that in a nutshell states 1) humans are social and rational animals, 2) some things you can control while other things you can’t, and 3) the goal is to be a virtuous person by paying attention to Wisdom, Justice, Temperance, and Courage.
Stoicism isn’t about suppressing emotions Spock-style or “keeping a stiff upper lip” which is basically what my mom was telling me to do in the text message telling me I was “over reacting”. My mom near constantly encourages me and my family to read up on Stoicism thinking it’ll fix our problems because she’s fixated on it and CBT and while I’m studying Stoicism for my own reasons, my Stoicism looks very different from hers.
Firstly, if someone came to me for help or advice, step one: I’d acknowledge their feelings. I confess that I have a little bit of an advantage here because I’ve actually had some mental health related training for a previous job and that’s one of the first things they teach you. If your friend, for example, has an eating disorder and they say “I feel fat” you obviously want to be good friend so your automatic reaction is probably to tell them “You’re not fat! You’re beautiful!” but you shouldn’t do that because by saying it in that way you basically just told them that they’re “wrong” about what they’re feeling and that their “feelings don’t matter”. Obviously that’s probably not even remotely close to what you meant, but when someone is in distress that’s what it comes off as. A better response is to say, “okay, why do you feel that way?” because it 1) acknowledges their feelings, 2) shows that you’re listening, and 3) keeps the momentum of the conversation going. You can’t help your friend unless you keep the line of communication open.
The second thing I do if someone comes to me with a problem is actually ask them what they need. It’s a really good idea to clarify off the bat if they want advice, need you to do something, or just need to vent. Most of the time people just need/want to vent. Being able to listen to someone without expressing judgement is a very useful skill to learn. One of my coworkers is almost naturally really good at it and I really appreciate that I can talk to them and I feel like they won’t judge me for it. I’m still working on being able to listen without judgement because it definitely doesn’t come naturally to me, which makes sense because apparently it’s not a skill my mom has cultivated exactly cultivated either.
So, when I told my mom that I put in my application for a new job and her response was “you’re over reacting” it hurt my feelings because it meant that she thought I was in the wrong and that my feelings of fear, disgust, and fustration about my current job didn’t matter. I was hoping she would help me with the interview and I felt let down when she didn’t support my decision to apply for a new job. Every time I brought it up she would just throw more Stoicims quotes at me which wasn’t really all that helpful if I’m being honest because I didn’t want philosophy advice, I wanted someone to acknowledge my feelings and help me prepare and practice for my job interview.
Lastly to wrap up my thoughts I want to talk about agency. This the cornerstone of my philosophical development. One of the reasons I started looking at Stoicism as a possible life philosophy is that it answered my big life question. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the big life questions like “What is reality”, “Do I have true free will”, “What is the meaning of life?” ect… Well, my big life question was “When is it my turn to be the asshole?!”
I’ve worked in customer service for a several years and I’ve had the “privilege” of encountering some entitled, rude jerks, so naturally I wanted to know why I always had to take the moral high ground and “because it’s your job” or “because good karma” or “because that’s how you get to heaven” weren’t good enough answers for me.
Learning about agency in a philosophical context helped clear things up for me and made me appreciate what little agency I have and taught me to respect the agency of others. Not being an asshole to people is one of the few things actually in my power. I can’t necessarily control when I feel anxious or frustrated, but I can practice not reinforcing those emotions by lashing out at other people. The flip-side of that is also respecting other people’s choices and how they choose to exercise their own agency. Stoicism distinguishes between feelings and actions. Everyone gets angry, but not everyone goes around punching people in the face. Here I have to cheat a little and dip my toe (so to speak) into psychotherapy instead of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy).
In psychotherapy there’s a technique that asks you to put your emotions under the microscope and record which came first, the emotion or the thought? Did think you of something sad and then felt sad or did you feel sad first and then thought of something sad because you were feeling sad? It’s kind of spooky, but yeah, I’ve noticed I’ll get the emotion first and then think of something that reinforces the emotion. I’ll feel mad and then look around for a reason why I’m mad. I’ll be anxious and then pick something around me that I think is freaking me out. I’ll be sad and remember something hurtful somebody said to me that day. I think noticing that pattern is kind of scary because it means that tiny sliver of agency is getting smaller and smaller. Our thoughts still have impact on our emotions because obvious my mom’s text hurt my feelings and speculating about how little actual free will we have independent of biology makes me anxious, but there’s an inverse relationship there also that we generally don’t pay attention to.
I might be interested in doing another post related to what I’ve learned about psychotherapy and mindfulness later on and how it compares and contrasts with Stoicism. But anyway, that’s the conflict I had with my mom because I felt like despite both us studying Stoicism we definitely weren’t on the same page. I feel like my mom was hyper focusing on the self-control aspect of Stoicism (because that’s what she personally focuses on for her own self improvement) and thought I was behaving rashly when I applied for a new job seemingly out of the blue just because I was over-stressed when in actuality I had been low key job hunting for a few days before everything got out of hand and the maggot incident was just the final push I needed to convince me to put in my application.
PS: Oh, for those just tuning in, I work part-time at a pizzeria and the place was built incorrectly with a floor that slants in the wrong direction away from the drains and they originally had wooden shelving that sat on the floor where the water collects so two years ago we had a maggot infestation and black mold that was making all the employees sick so they got rid of most, but not all of the wood. The last piece was the shelving that our register sat on and low and behold we found more maggots and it took the managers TWO WEEKS to get rid of the wood and the shift supervisor had to go over the managers’ head to contact our corporate food safety officer directly before anything was done. This was after I had had a disciplinary meeting with my managers about me being unprofessional and negative and they were totally gas-lighting me saying my negative attitude was the problem and I needed to focus on the bright side of things. So, yeah, two weeks of maggots. They can fuck off about my negative attitude.
If you’re interested in learning about Stoicism despite my abysmal explanation you can check out the Modern Stoicism website/blog https://modernstoicism.com/ or sign up to live like a Stoic for one week for FREE starting Oct 7th this year https://learn.modernstoicism.com/ Stoic Week is an annual event that is basically like a try-before-buy-into-this-philosophy
The Mindfulness practices I’m looking at come from The Science of Mindfulness: A Research-Based Path to Well-Being by Ronald Siegel. I had initially jumped from Buddhism to Stoicism because I was having trouble wrapping my brain around the Eastern Philosophy and mysticism parts because there is a LOT to unpack there and this lecture helps put the actual practices into a more digestible form for a western audience. It’s looking like for me I need to incorporate a blending of the two; There’s a lot of “It’s all fun and games until somebody loses and I” jokes floating around in the Stoic circles, but I’m starting to think reexamining our cultural concepts behind how and what we define as “self” isn’t a bad idea, but that’s a whole other post in itself which will probably be me rambling about the “You’re not you when you’re hungry” Snicker’s commercials.