As social beings, social interactions and relations are inevitable during our lifetime. And as we interact with other human beings, conflicts will be inevitably created. Conflicts – most of the time – cannot be considered as a “good thing”, but even if so, one should not avoid interactions with another as means of avoiding conflict. As the premise in the first sentence has suggested, interactions are natural for us humans, and so are conflicts that came with it eventually, so it would be unwise to keep one’s distance from the former to evade the latter.
Conflicts inflict pain; physically, but most often emotionally, if not both. Saying and/or doing the wrong thing, deliberately or not, will hurt another. And the more one interacts with another (id est, the closer one is to another) may mean more pain, which sprung from the thought that such deeds came from a person one held dear.
What English speakers define as “emotions” are divided into two by early Stoic philosophers (which wrote in Greek). Pathē, or pathos in its plural form, are experiences which are rendered to be rather negative, such as grief, anger, desire, and so on. While eupatheiai are affective responses which Stoic theory accepts as rational and good, which includes certain forms of joy and gladness, certain types of love and friendship, and some powerful kinds of longing or wishing. Now the responses for a painful experience would be classified in the pathē, which generally would be anger and distress. The following are definitions of the two emotional responses in stoicism:
Anger is a desire which is disobedient to reason, to punish another who is thought to have hurt or harmed one unjustly
Distress is a contraction of psyche which is disobedient to reason, caused by a fresh believing that an evil is present (in other words, one is undergoing evil).
In a classifications of emotional responses by species, anger is positioned in the epithumia, or the desire genus. Anger that wells up becomes bile, anger that is stored up to age became hatred, and when it bides the time for revenge it became rancor. On the other hand, distresses are positioned in lupē, or the distress genus. Distress, when oppressive, becomes anxiety. When it produces speechlessness, it becomes misery. When it settles deep inside, it becames anguish. Others in the lupē include envy, rivalry, jealousy, pity, grief, worry, and agony.
Now that we have understood those emotions, we may now question their appropriateness. I need not explain too much, for these emotions lead to suffering, something we naturally will prefer to avoid, if given the choice. I have mentioned earlier that pain is inevitable, hence we can assume that such inevitability apply to the emotions of distress and anger. But the choice we are always given is to let the emotions linger or not, and to be overpowered by it or not.
We humans have labeled ourselves as Homo sapiens: the wise men. In order to put our wisdom first, as beings of reason, we should put our reason and consideration before succumbing to our emotions and its disobedience towards reason itself. “Think before you act”, as the saying goes. But it is hard for us to put reason forward – to be reasonable – when our central directive faculty, our minds, are clouded by emotions, that we might never even have known our emotions’ disobedience to reason especially when confronted by them, is it not? Ah, but you do know now, for I have told you, in a hope that you will remember the next time you are confronted by such emotions. I shall remind you now, that it is important to be wise.
Some of you may argue that it is natural and acceptable and human that at times, especially when confronted with conflicts, to be angered and distressed, and yes it is. But if you argue further that it is natural and acceptable to have such emotions stored up, that being calm and cool and stoic is only natural for the transcendent, the inhumanly wise, and the sage, then no, it isn’t.
Chrysippus said emotions are irrational. While they are going on, we found ourselves ‘blinded’ by it, unable to prevent from doing things our calmer selves would never approve. In it, we are ‘beside of’ or ‘outside of’ ourselves. For instance, as anger wells up, we throw our fist to the table or scream on top of our lungs as (ridiculously) if that would achieve something. But no matter how overpowering our emotions may be, emotions are volitional, it is in our control, it is up to us. When confronted with an emotion, especially of the pathē, one will be facing a battle between one’s emotion and one’s reason.
“We may not be able to prevent ourselves from doing certain things when we become upset, but all the same we cannot allege the strength of our emotions in order to excuse ourselves. For helplessness is not the inevitable human condition, nor is it our natural condition, it is only the condition of persons who are not yet fully mature. To assume the full stature of our humanity would also be to enter a different realm of affective experience, one where strength of feeling does not have to mean loss of control.” (Stoicism and Emotion, Margaret R. Graver)
I would now ask you, dear readers to be wise. For only the wise person is free. To be free means not being a slave; to do what you want, and not having to do what you don’t. That doesn’t mean that the actions of the wise are autonomous while ordinary people are not, but the person of perfect understanding does exactly what he or she wishes to do, while the ordinary person has not yet achieved such self-command, hence liable to be carried away by his or her own affective responses, sometimes acting contrary to what he or she otherwise mean to do. However, the ordinary person is in fact able for such a ‘transcendent’ self-command, and should aspire to it. Yes it is in our nature to respond affectively, but it is not in our nature to be overpowered and conquered by our own affective responses. We are unfree only because we are at variance with ourselves. Hence to achieve a superior self-command is not to be “inhuman” or to possess “inhuman” qualities. No, it is simply to be human.
We have reached the main point of this long blabbering of mine: forgiving. The wise person – the person of perfect understanding – knows that in order not to store up and be overpowered by negative emotion is to console it, to get rid of it. In facing conflicts with another and the pain that came with it means for such person of wisdom to forgive. Forgiving is unquestionably a virtue. The person of perfect understanding’s every action is an exercise of virtue, and he or she has reasons to be joyful at every moment of the day, for a virtuous deed brings true joy. I ask you to attain the fullness of your human possibility, to attain the best part of you. To close this, I will quote a passage from Seneca’s Moral Epistles.
“Believe me, true joy is a serious matter. …Cast aside those things that glitter on the outside, those things that are promised you by another or from another, and trample them underfoot. Look to your real good and rejoice what is yours. What is it that is yours? Yourself; the best part of you.”
I would like to use this opportunity to ask you who personally know me forgiveness for my past actions that are hurtful, whether intentional or not, and those who don’t forgiveness if any of my writings and works are misinforming, misleading, or offensive.