Keeping a cool head in times of adversity
Television and magazines are full of recommendations for disadvantaged individuals. "Be positive and have confidence," they are told. "Better times are coming." On many occasions, such bromides are dispensed by those who have never encountered serious problems in life or who have inherited most of what they possess.
No wonder that envy and discouragement are rampant in contemporary society, possibly more than in any previous era of humanity. Already in the year 326 B.C., Aristotle emphasized the importance of seeking virtue as a way to attain happiness. Unfortunately, the voice of the philosopher seems long forgotten.
How to use rationality to overcome misfortune
Nowadays, many of those affected by personal deficiencies, instead of seeking out a rational response, turn to nihilism, obsession, or revenge. None of those approaches works, none of them has ever improved anything. What is the reason of their popularity? Why do people follow those paths?
Nihilism will deprive your life of direction, replacing ambition by neglect and dereliction. Your vision will become blurred and you will be reduced to perceiving, from everything, the worst. Purpose will be buried by random decisions, convictions will turn into derision.
Obsession will narrow your range to the minimum, pushing you to devote every hour to senseless goals, such as acquiring fame and power. History tells of many small men who became murderers to enhance their feeling of self-importance. This is not the way.
Revenge will waste your life by focusing your attention on past misfortune. Getting even seldom solves problems and frequently results in additional harm. Revenge will consume your efforts and resources, leaving you empty-handed, sad, and mad at yourself.
"Wisdom is the most general of sciences," observed Aristotle, "since it requires man to know principles and to follow them. Prudence, on the other hand, is a virtue concerned with the particulars of human action. Prudent is the man who can tell, at the same time, what is the best and what is feasible for him."
Four rational steps you can take
The rational approach for dealing with bad luck and misfortune starts and ends with reality. Cards are not evenly distributed in the game of life. Expecting others to compensate you for present or past trouble is unlikely to improve your situation. If anything, pity and compassion will paralyse you. What to do then? In my view, these four are the steps that one should follow:
1. Understand your own uniqueness: You are unique in your genetic characteristics and personal circumstances. Do not compare yourself with others. It is irrational and brings nothing but misery.
2. Make a workable plan: Discard unrealistic expectations and decide to make the best of your situation. Look for practical solutions. Assess different alternatives. Make a plan and implement it.
3. Adopt a long-term focus: Realize that, more often than not, focused long-term activity is able to counterbalance personal deficiencies, major obstacles, and even tragedy. Keep on advancing on your chosen path and don't look back.
4. Maintain your serenity: If you look around, you will find plenty of examples of people who have succeeded despite overwhelming burdens. Maintain your serenity and trust the principle of cause and effect. There is no guarantee of success, but intelligent persistence has proven many times to work.
For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living
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