The Stoic philosopher Epictetus stated: “You must completely control your desire and shift your avoidance to what lies within your reasoned choice. You must no longer feel anger, resentment, envy, or regret.” According to the Stoic philosophy, you control your perception.
To those Star Wars fans, you’ll be surprised that Jedi share a similarity to the Stoic life. For instance, Anakin Skywalker had conflicting emotions as he dwelled in grief, anger, and fear. This emotional anguish drove him to the dark side of destruction and losing those he loved. As a passionate young Jedi, he dismissed the Jedi philosophy. He became a slave to his emotions and lost control of a clear and rational perception. However, how many of us can sympathize with Anakin Skywalker and control our perception?
Why Perception matters
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom,” these are the words of the Stoic Mindset of Viktor Frankl. Do you have the power to control your perception?
Perception affects the lives of many people and it varies where you live, your past experiences, and modern-day society’s culture. For example, in 2009 the President of the United States, Barack Obama, tried to make a difference regarding racial prejudices that widely spread throughout the country. He addressed the American public with several “Teachable Moments.” One of them being the Gates and Crowley Affair.
The celebrity, Dr. Henry Gate Louis Jr. is not only the host of Finding Your Roots but is a well-respected American Harvard literary professor and critic. He was dragged to prison for four hours for disorderly conduct. There was an incident of heated racial friction between him and the Massachusetts policeman, Sergeant James Crowley. He mistakenly accused him of breaking into his own home, while Gates accused the white officer, Crowley, of being racist.
President Obama wanted to address the issue. So, he invited the two men to the White House in a casual setting to drink beers and “talk things out.” Without a doubt, this trailblazer was not only breaking barriers in his political platform but wanted to do more. He was carving time to prove that we (as a people) have to correct our lens, so to speak, how we perceive the world. He hopefully asked the men at the “beer summit” if this would ever be a color-blind country or a non-prejudice race society. He intended to change the perception of two different men and for them to agree on the same idea. Besides his tireless efforts to change these two specific men’s perceptions, but also a whole nation.
Using Stoic philosophy as the foundation for this entry, would you agree that we can control our perception?
Another political figure that valued Stoicism was the independent, Vice Presidential Candidate James Stockdale, a Commander in the Vietnam War. He was a prisoner of war for seven and a half years and suffered solitary confinement. Stockdale’s perception as commander of more than one hundred pilots changed instantaneously. His aircraft was shot and he descended on his parachute to the earthly battle-wounded ground. He no longer had control of his troops, as he became a target to thousands of men. Needless to say, he was freed of his parachute, but would no longer have control of the situation.
This warranted a humbling perception that evolved throughout his time. He recognized that emotions can lock us into a prison.
As previously mentioned, emotions are attributed to a person’s actions and only the individual can take control of their outlook or perception towards life. Stockdale believed that we need to take ownership of what we can and cannot take control of. Essentially, his perception changed his life. He never doubted that he would be free again. On the contrary, he knew he would be able to prevail again. Simply put, he lived by the Seneca philosophy: “A man is as unhappy as he has convinced himself he is.”
Needless to say, these primary examples serve as models that we can have control of our perception, but it starts with us to make the change.
Interested in more philosophy and positive thinking? Check our other post here about how Mindfulness is key at work.