"There is no effect without cause," wrote Voltaire in his novel Candide in the year 1759. "All parts of the whole are necessarily linked to each other forming a causal chain." This immutable principle of existence is one of the hardest to accept for humans and this is why we spend a good part of our days complaining about the world and wishing that it was otherwise.
From the moment that you set foot out of your house in the morning until you are back in the evening, chances are that you will have to face the consequences of other people's ignorance and mistakes. If you have a really bad day, dark clouds brought about by third party's wrongdoings might drive all sunshine out of your life, at least for a while.
- Your car might break down due to an error committed by the mechanic who repaired the engine two weeks ago.
- You might lose your job if the company where you work becomes insolvent due to gross mismanagement by its directors.
- You might be wrongly sued in court and be obliged to spend your life's savings on legal fees to defend yourself.
Enduring the outcome of someone else's errors or stupidity is arduous enough. By adding emotional suffering to the equation, we only make life harder for ourselves. How can we improve our response to those situations? Is there a way to immunize ourselves against the psychological wear-and-tear caused by our share in the world's misfortunes?
Serenity of spirit combined with determined action constitute the optimal reaction to bad breaks in life. Nobody can tell if our society will become better in the next decades, but we can be certain of one thing: our getting angry at other people's mistakes or lack of knowledge will do nothing to improve our present.
In Ancient Greece, the primary goal of education was the acquisition of rational thinking habits. Experience proves that, with a calm demeanour and a clear mind, man is able to overcome even the most formidable catastrophes. How can we develop our capacity to analyse problems without falling prey to stress and agitation?
Continuous practice allows us to expand our skills in any domain: building up sound thinking patterns is a demanding, but most worthy undertaking. No one is born a philosopher and no one stays one for long without relentless effort. As Voltaire observed more than two centuries ago, "man was not placed in the Garden of Eden for the purpose of standing still, but for cultivating it."
For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living
[Image by David Berkowitz under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]