In that last post, I listed a few of the “indifferents” that I thought were clearly ones that I can be dispassionate about. But there are some “indifferents” that I might have some trouble having a detached perspective about.
The first of these is family. How can family be an indifferent? Historically, I have based a large portion of my happiness on my family. I love my wife deeply, she completes me. My children are my pride and joy. I owe my parents so much because of their guidance and their giving to me. My family is a positive in my life, not an “indifferent!” But isn’t that positive influence on my morale, my well being, and my life the very reason why I need to remember that they have little to do with my virtue, my excellence?
The Hatfield Family…Don’t they look happy?
Actually, there are three major reasons that family is placed squarely in the indifferent column.
Reason #1 is that the concept of family can never live up to the reality. That unabashed positive family image is straight out of a Pleasantville Utopia (I really did enjoy the movie Pleasantville, by the way). A great number of people have problems with their family. They think they are not loved like they should be by family members. They are disrespected by their children, and cheated on by their spouse, or beaten by their father. Most of us expect our family to be pleasant to us…just because they are family. You expect your wife to be in the mood for sex when you are, or at least at the same rate as you are (e.g. every other day vs.once every two weeks). Your parents are intrusive in your life. Your children NEVER listen to you. Many expect family to be a perfect refuge from the rest of the world, but isn’t that an unrealistic expectation? Eventually, your family will disappoint you. This is not a negative statement about family, it is just the cold hard facts. The world around you, including your family, is not here to please you all the time. Your fellow human beings, including your family (and no matter how noble they may be), will err, they will sin, and sometimes they might just outright betray.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many, many joys to be had from family. I am very fortunate to have the family I have. So, if you are fortunate to have a family like mine, with such an overwhelmingly positive effect on your life, you still cannot escape the second and third reason that keeps family in the “indifferent” column of a Stoic philosophy.
Reason #2 is suffering: Your family will suffer. Some of them may suffer more than you, and some of them will suffer through your suffering. Your own struggles are one thing, but through your family, you will live theirs. They will get sick, they will be betrayed, stolen from, attacked, etc. For every family member, there is an emotional clone of you out there waiting to be tortured or tried.
Reason #3 is impermanence. In the end, every member of your family will part from you. Some of them will move away forever. Some of them will die before you. On the day of your death, you will part them all, and your parting will most likely make all of them sad, even if they hated you throughout your life.
So what is a Heroic Stoic to do? Is it all just a waste of time, an illusion, this family thing? As for me, I am aware that I cannot control my family. Giving birth to my children gives me know guarantee that they will respect my wishes. Marrying a wife guarantees me no love in return…the choice to love me, to please me, etc. is hers alone (as well as the choice to leave me, give up on me, etc.). My parents will someday be gone. My brother, my children, anyone in my family may be gone in the next minute. Being aware of this makes me a better man, a more tolerant husband, father, son, or brother.
I owe my family my service, adoration, and love, and they allow me the opportunity to improve myself by hopefully offering them an example, and knowing that the joys of their presence can be gone in an instant allows me to enjoy them all the more.
…and thus Stoic Joy through awareness and moderation.