If you know something is right, if you know that acting a certain way, or even feeling a certain way is the way to maintain your tranquility, then why don’t you do it?
I will get to the point: It is through your will that you can maintain your tranquility. To act according to your philosophy during the most trying of times requires great effort, but to be a person of virtue you must do this. You must, through sheer mental exertion, act how you know you should act!
Here on the site, I write about a philosophical world view that includes being aware of what you can and cannot control, that fate largely determines our future, and that everything is impermanent. You may agree with this view in its entirety or you may disagree with parts or even all of it. Regardless of your opinion on the matter, I do think that living a life of tranquility requires two major steps:
- Establish your philosophy (How do I live?)
- Live by that philosophy
Because it may be where most of us philosophers fail, I want to address that second part today. Assuming you have established some semblance of what is the way to live, then what does it take to actually live according to what you know to be virtuous? Let’s break this down a little. Let’s just take one small example.
In my philosophy, I know that I cannot control the actions of those around me. Occasionally, I am confronted by someone who is a complete jackass.
Picture of a jackass
I don’t mean that they are being a jackass today, but I mean a person who, by the sum of their actions, is a jackass (see definition here). Assuming that I must deal with this person, at least for a time, what do I do? First, I must determine (a) how I act with this person? For my own tranquility though, I must establish (b) how I feel about and because of this person?
(a) I do not return their rudeness, attitude, and demeanor in kind. Some of us may be tempted to do this, but most of us find this step fairly easy to complete, although it does cause us stress. In any case, this is easier than the next part of my reaction to this jackass, and that leads to…
(b) I do not let their action affect my emotion, viewpoint and general attitude of the world around me. This, I think, is the tough part. It is by sheer force of will, by having complete awareness and exerting effort that I execute this very important step and maintain my tranquility and my virtue. In many cases, I may need to maintain my interaction (e.g., a family member, an important client, my boss), so I may need use my mental will constantly. In many cases, you may have the option to discontinue the interaction, and I do not discourage this if you have the option (for example, find a new job, look for new clients, etc.). In any case, you must first decide whether a continued interaction is important to you; then regardless of what you decide, you maintain your tranquility through your own effort.
The bottom line here is that tranquility is yours to control, and this requires effort of will. Your philosophy is there for you to use it in the toughest of times, and when these challenges arise you will be required to act according to what you know to be true: that your virtue is maintained by you regardless of external influence.
To act according to what you know to be best is not always easy, but you must do so, no?