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Captain of my soul: Approval & Stoicism

Updated: Mar 4


A man and his young son were traveling with their baggage on a donkey the man owned.

While passing down the street they encountered a group of men goofing around. The man heard them saying, “What a fool, walking on foot despite having a donkey”.

The man put his son on the back of the donkey and continued.

Only a couple of minutes later some other said, “What an ungrateful young man riding on a donkey while his father walks”.

This time the man ordered his son to get down and rode the donkey himself.

They arrived at a village in search of some freshwater. They saw a well and moved towards it. Beside the well, there was a bevy of woman. One of them said to the man, “How could you be so cold-hearted, let the poor boy ride the donkey now”

“Look at his face he’s gasping for air” she further added while offering the boy some water to drink.

Now both of them sat on the back of their donkey and rode it peacefully. Thinking that nobody can point a finger on them.

They hadn’t gone too far, two men stopped them saying that it was inhumane to overload such a puny animal for your comfort.

The man sat down and thought pensively about the situation and eventually came up with a great idea. He tied his donkey’s legs to a long bamboo putting both the ends to his and his son’s shoulder.

On their way, they reached a bridge, while they were in the middle the animal kicked one of his legs out of the rope. They lost their control and, the animal fell into the river and because it was tied up, it couldn’t swim and drowned.

Many of you have heard this story already and would have interpreted it in several ways but it all comes down to the approval-seeking behavior that this man had and because of it, he lost his asset.

Even today we do the same. We seek approval of others to a point where we forget if we have our brains to make the decision.

Now with the inception of social media, this has gotten even worse.

In a study carried out at a large southern university of the US, having 280 students as test subjects. The researchers found out that both extroverts and introverts felt a significant increase in anxiety levels with the increased time spent on facebook. On facebook consciously and they seek approval of others measured in the number of likes and comments they get.

Almost all of us know that this behavior is detrimental to our health & social sanity. Then why do we crave it so much?

Is there any psychological reason behind it?

This behavior can be related to Freud’s Id, Ego, and Superego concept.

As Freud puts it, Ego operates from the reality principle. Humans want to satisfy the ID’s desires in the most realistic, reasonable and socially acceptable way.

And when we think of something socially acceptable we think of acceptance from the people around us who form the society.

Another reason is our belief system and the hierarchy that we follow in our society. We usually believe that someone more successful than us, possesses a better decision making power than us and if he approves something we can succeed in that particular area as well.

Maybe he has this power, maybe with his advice, you are better off. But the real problem arises when we seek approval from anyone. Even from the people who don’t have anything to do with your life or goals. He’s in a completely different league.

I’ve spoken on this topic earlier you can check it out on: https://www.justhinkingoutloud.com/post/you-re-gonna-suffer-more


Is there anyone or anything that we can follow to get out of this slum?

Can we shift our paradigm and remove the behavior from our body, mind, and soul?

The answer lies in the Stoicism. The art of being indifferent in any situation.

A great many philosophers have shared their views on this but for now, I’m going to talk about the teachings of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Zeno of Citium.

Following them can surely pull us out from the trap of this inimical habit of seeking validation from others.

Marcus Aurelius:

“Do not waste what remains of your life in speculating about your neighbors. Anything that distracts you from the fidelity to the Ruler within you means a loss of opportunity for some other task.”

But to invoke your inner ruler you will surely need a reign. Build that reign yourself. Find something of which you can be a proud ruler. You can start as small as having a hobby. Something that you’re good at then take a step forward and become the best at it. Throw off the shackles and emerge as a mighty ruler of your life.

Seneca:

We’re talking about the teachings of Seneca, It’s impossible to go ahead without sharing his views on friendship. After all, we seek the approval of our friends before anyone else.

If we try to understand the deep meaning of his writing we would come to know that we may and should take the advice of our true friend, not a casual friend nor a fair-weather friend but the true friend.

There’s nothing wrong with it. Moreover, a true friend as described by Seneca would never approve of anything that is not good for us or can potentially hinder our progress.

According to him,” One who seeks friendship for favorable occasions, strips it all of its nobility.”

Friend itself must be stoic in nature. In good in bad, In pleasant in unpleasant, in prosperity and adversity, He should remain the same.

Zeno of Citium:

Zeno preaches that the path to personal happiness and inner peace is through extinguishing all desires or to affect things beyond one’s control and through living for the present without hope for or fear of the future beyond the power of opinion.

And still, we try to predict our future & judge our present based on opinions.

In our heart, we know that the opinions mean nothing and they’re bound to be changed.

Be a strong stoic and neglect everything that is going to be a hurdle in the way of your growth and happiness.

Being a stoic can get you out of many bad phases of life but to the contrary for a stoic nothing is good or bad.

But even if we think in terms of good and bad or right and wrong there’s nothing to worry about.

You know that you’re doing right, you have faith, you have determination then people’s opinions make little to no difference.

Have a few good people in your life, listen to them and then move on.

As William Ernest has put it,

“I’m the master of my fate, captain of my soul”.

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