“People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them”―Epictetus, Greek stoic philosopher (AD 50-135)
During my good old school days our art teacher would place some object on a table visible to students sitting in a semi-circle. We were supposed to sketch and paint it as it appeared to us and at the end of the session, we all had different outcomes even though the target object was the same. This, she explained was ‘perspective.’ In the real world, reality is the same but its nature changes with different viewpoints coming in from all sides. Take for example, a cloudy day. For people living in cold countries, this may seem depressing but for those living in a hot and dry climate, this could be a moment to rejoice as their faces light up in anticipation of rain or cool breeze. Another example, although heinous could be something like an accident or murder. An incident takes place resulting in loss of life which is a fact. Out springs a whole bunch of conjectures for and against both the perpetrator and the victim baffling the listeners and causing the entire episode to take on many facades.
There is nothing wrong with having an opinion. Actually, it is a clear indication of a healthy thinking mind. Rational human beings would never believe whatever they are told but will do their own research and draw their own conclusions but generally, humans tend to take it easy. Like the foolish children of Hamelin who gleefully and blindly followed the Pied Piper into a cave never to be seen again, swayed by the tune he played on his flute, they prefer to carry on with their life because it helps them to focus on immediate physical and emotional needs. Rather than exercise their brains, they eagerly absorb the two cents view presented to them by others. Here is where reality takes a twist for the worse or contrary to that, for the good depending upon the intentions of the opinionated onlookers.
Losing a friend, spouse or child because of death or separation sometimes can have multiple perspective angles with the bystanders harping their own tunes. This can either be a source of comfort for the aggrieved or can increase their pain and distress. Events occur on daily basis. They have their own impact on the people but in majority cases, ones who have the capacity to move on are usually pulled back into delirium by such ‘sympathizers’ who, ensure longevity of their hurt and trauma. This too happens on account of the various forms of perspectives held by the relatives and friends. In contrast there are those whose encouraging remarks and positive attitude decrease depression enabling the sufferers to overcome their distress.
With the level of influences that people are subjected to, what should determine their line of action and how can they, in order to maintain their sanity circumvent the influx of observations and opinions that keep hammering them from all directions?
Since ancient times, philosophers like Epictetus, have proffered that the foundation of their thinking is self-knowledge. In other words, we should first try to address our own ignorance and gullibility. They emphasized on the concept of rationality drawing their implications from logic. Thus, for example, people should not cheat is the first step. In the second step, different reasons are conjured for not cheating. The final step then establishes concrete deductions after deeply analyzing the reasons and their correctness. The ultimate rational result is dependent on the first two steps. Moving ahead, realities of life have been further classified into things which are and which are not in our power. Opinions, impulses, desires, aversions etc. happen to be in our control whereas those that are not, comprise our bodies (meaning diseases or disabilities for example), wealth or possessions (subject to loss or gain), fame (dependent upon a host of factors) and last but not the least, power. If we do not realize this early in life, we are bound to encounter much suffering.
Nothing can be done about things beyond our control but the ones that are, should be addressed with a conscious effort. The choice whether we want to adopt irrationality or use common sense is purely our own. When we lose something, we become heart-broken (this is perception) although reality is that we came in this world owning nothing and when we die, we take nothing. The feuds that ensue following properties and wealth are mirror images of the disputants’ perspectives, which by the way, are very much within their command, if only they understand. In many instances, opponents who fight tooth and nail, for example, to obtain possession of a certain tract of land may never live to enjoy it, having killed one another during the dispute.
Peace of mind is a tremendous blessing but it does not come easily to human beings who, on account of their perspectives fall into a state of melancholy that brings them nothing but gloom. Their choice to brood, complain or grumble or worse, destroy their own existence shows that they have failed to appreciate and nurture the power within that can defeat this negativity allowing them to lead a fuller and more productive life. Rationalizing situations is a positive approach whereas ignoring it tantamount to denying the good and promoting evil yet we should be watchful of harbouring opinions we tend to frequently contradict with our actions.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE).