“Remember, it is not enough to be hit or insulted to be harmed, you must believe that you are being harmed. If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation. Which is why it is essential that we not respond impulsively to impressions; take a moment before reacting, and you will find it easier to maintain control.” — Epictetus
Sometimes when I watch the news or read stuff on social media, I feel like we live in the age of outrage. People are so easily offended, looking for slights or ulterior motives in other peoples actions. Even the smallest thing is twisted to show how they are righteous in their outrage.
One of the most important Stoic ideas is that no one can make us feel anything with our permission. But that begs the question—If someone is rude to us, shouldn’t we feel offended? If someone is mean to us, shouldn’t we feel hurt? If someone gossips about us, shouldn’t we feel indignant?
Sure. We can go right ahead and feel whatever we want. Just remember that it’s our choice to feel that way.
Wait a second… how is it our choice? The other person is clearly on the wrong!
It’s our choice because we give meaning to the other person’s words or actions. How we think about their words and actions creates those emotions in us.
Why do we get bent out of shape about what others do? Why do we take offense at what others do and say? (I think it’s interesting that we “take” offense as if it is something we reach out and grab.) We take offense because we have expectations of how we think someone else should act. When they don’t act accordingly, we get frustrated that we aren’t able to control the outcome. We may even try to use anger to control them.
“Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.”
On the flip side, have you been around someone that is patient and calm, and always assumes the best motives of others, or failing good motives, that the other person is simply ignorant? People like this choose to see the exact same words and actions of others from a completely different perspective. By giving people the benefit of the doubt, they are not easily offended, or not offended at all. By rejecting the idea that they somehow suffered from the words of others, they recognize that the words of others hold only as much power over them as they let them. They decided that they weren’t hurt by those words, and therefore they weren’t.
You always have the choice to decide that you have been injured. Choose wisely.