“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
– Romans 12:17
In our lives, so much happens that is beyond our control. We can’t control the weather. We can’t control the economy. We can’t control the actions of others. But we can control our responses to these things, or our preparation for various possibilities or outcomes that are outside our control.
I like the following Marcus Aurelius quote.“It’s silly to try to escape other people’s faults. They are inescapable. Just try to escape your own.” It makes me think that if we put as much time and energy into controlling what we can, we would be better equipped to manage those things beyond our control. Being aware of our own faults helps us to readjust our focus. It helps us to reshape our priorities. It gives us a better opportunity of being successful in the way we engage with others.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until… And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”
Or, as Epictetus put it, “Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.”
I don’t think that Roosevelt or Epictetus are downplaying the value of words or explanations. I think that they are simply making a claim that our words along with our actions are powerful manifestations of what we think, and our actions are perhaps truer. Wherever possible, our words and actions should match. Our communication is made more powerful when actions and words combine to say the same thing.
And finally, the words of David Foster Wallace, “The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.” His words encourage us to sharpen our focus and pay attention, in the ways Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus mention above, so that we might be free to care about and for others in life changing ways. This is an enormous challenge that can only be achieved by paying attention to the little things, the daily actions, over and over, as we shape ourselves and our lives.