09 June 2005

Spheres Under The Influence


Hey - what the hell did I just put in my coffee? Posted by Hello

Greg:

You know what would be really nice? If a person could actually know what their sphere of influence was.

Wait, let's try that again.
You know what would be really nice? If I actually knew what my sphere of influence was. But for that, we need to start back in ancient Rome. Or was it Greece? Some place with statues and "free love". Okay, San Francisco. Good enough.

So here we are on the Embarcadero, discussing a philosopher who has long since turned to bone meal. His name is Epictetus, (I know that I mentioned him in one of my previous letters) and he came up with one of the most pithy philosophies that I've ever heard of. In a nutshell it is this:

There are certain things that you can't do anything about, so it's a waste of time to distress yourself about those things. Instead, you should just chill right the hell out and let those things go on their merry way as things are wont to do in this life. It is the nature of life for things to pass through it. Okay, so I just paraphrased the hell out of his philosophy and probably misquoted it, but you get my drift.

So where that leaves me is here: it's fine and understandable to not distress yourself over things that can't be helped, but how do you know which things can benefit from your effort, and which things are beyond your control and should be left alone? It would be nice if I could say for certain that I could do some good in this or that situation by applying skills, talent or input. But determining which things those are is the real pisser.

For instance, I figured out long ago that I can't do anything to change another person's behavior. Beyond that, I feel it would be at the least meddling and at the most disrespectful if I did, no matter how repugnant I found their actions. However, I can do something about communicating to that person what the boundaries are in how they treat me. On the other hand, the fledgling Buddhist in me feels that if I have an opportunity to do some good or at least ameliorate some harm, then I am ethically bound to do so. I know that I can prevent harm to myself and another person if I can prevent them from doing harm to me. Viz., stopping someone from hitting me stops me from being harmed and stops the other person from harming someone (and from a karmic standpoint, prevents them from harming themselves), so it's clear how defending oneself is the right thing to do in all cases. But beyond that...

I know this much for sure. The one place that I have the most influence is between my ears. That's where I apply most of my efforts. But beyond that? Still stumped.

I know that your eyes are weak , your legs are grey and wizened and your digits are knackered. But if you could summon up what little strength you possess to offer an insight here, it would be most appreciated. I'll send you a can of juice for your efforts.

Cheers, and give my best to Marie.


1 comment:

Becky said...

Sometimes it's impossible to tell whether you can do anything about a situation until you are hip deep in it. Once you find yourself in the middle of the mess you look around and say. "Well I can either keep trying to add to or solve the problem. OR I can choose to remove myself from situation entirely because it's just not worth the cost, effort, etc since I'm not guaranteed of a particular outcome."

I think it can be the same way with people and in some respects our reactions to other's behaviors. When you are being attacked the goal is to end the attack. The choice is get away from the attacker or engage the attacker in an effort to end the attack through contact. At that moment you can't really rationalize whether you can DO anything about the fact you have been attacked. It is already occurring.

However, your choice is in how you react to the attack (sound familiar?) In trying to determine whether I can do anything about a person or a situation I keep asking myself 1)Is this important enough to me to engage in or should I just remove myself? 2)Is there something about the way I am reacting that is causing me harm?

I guess the point is, yes you cannot change others, but changing is not always the goal. Happiness is the goal and the only one's happiness that you have any control over is your own.

That's more than enough hot air out of me.

- Becky