Processing Orlando

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May jurisdictions across the world are flying the Pride flag at half mast today.

I cried as I lowered the flag at our site today. I can’t imagine raising my daughters in this world. I don’t know what to do.

This comment showed up in my company’s online LGBTQ group this morning, where employees around the country gathered to process this weekend’s horrific shooting.

Another wounded soul had this to say:

I’ve been feeling similar waves of helplessness. This tragedy is heartbreaking and it made me linger this morning and not want to leave my wife and our young son. I hope we can take comfort in each other, knowing there are other parents like us everywhere teaching our children about love and respect and peace, and one day hopefully the love we teach today will prevail tomorrow. And I know this is silly, but I dug around my desk when I got in this morning and found my rainbow bracelet from last June. Somehow putting it on made me feel a little better.

At times like this, some Stoics also turn to Social media: “how should a Stoic respond to such horrible tragedies,” we ask.  While we usually speak of virtue in solemn, respectful tones—tragedies like this shake us.  “How can we—how can anyone—maintain anything resembling equanimity in the face of such, let’s call it what it is, evil?”

If you want to dissect that question, Massimo wrote a great post last year that may help you: “What would a Stoic Do? On Terrorism.

I just want to say one thing, though:  Maintaining equanimity and tranquility is meaningless if we achieve it through detachment and avoidance.

Don’t ignore the news.  Don’t avoid thinking about what this massacre means, emotionally and existentially, for Orlando and for the LGBTQ community in particular.  Let yourself feel the horror, feel the fear, feel genuine empathy and compassion.

A Stoic feels everything.  Making “right judgments” about “externals,” moreover, is meaningless if we fail to first appreciate and engage earnestly with the human condition.  There is no virtue in remaining strong and unfazed simply because we have failed to care about the suffering of others.  Caring comes first.

Then, if you feel the need, you may turn to the Stoics for comfort and advice on how to respond. I recommend #91 of Seneca’s Letters, which is a summary of a consolation he wrote to Liberalis after the the city of Lyon was destroyed by a fire.

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The Roman Golden Rule

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The famous “Equestrian Statue” of Marcus Aurelius was originally covered in gold.

The Golden Rule is fantastic.  All the world’s major literary cultures—Christians, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, ancient Egyptians, and, especially, Confucians—have at some point recognized that, if you had to choose just one short proverb to live your life by, “treat others the way we want to be treated” is pretty much the best you can do.

The Golden Rule is powerful because it is universal: it captures most of morality in just a single sentence.

I think that a good piece of philosophy, however, has to be more than broad-reaching.  A good proverb has to jump out at you with specifics.  It needs to immediately suggest to you the ways that you can take action to improve your adherence to virtue—not just in some hypothetical scenario in the distance future, but right now.

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In its common, general form, the Golden Rule doesn’t really meet this criterion.  For the Golden Rule to be useful as a philosophy—as a self-monitoring tool, as a meditation practice, as a way of life—it needs to be operationalized.

This is why I love the post that Rob Thompson wrote this weekend over at Prokopton.com: Why Stoics should Love the Golden Rule.  Rob collects no less than 7 variations of the Golden Rule from ancient Stoic literature—and the interesting thing about them is that they are all situation-specific.

Continue reading “The Roman Golden Rule”