I'll keep this post short and sweet for once. I've written before about Benjamin Franklin's 13 virtues, particular his concept of resolution (see here). Lately, however, another of Franklin's virtues has been occupying my mind: moderation.
Franklin's described moderation thus:
"Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve."
There's a lot to unpack in just those first two words, but that's not my focus here. For a great discussion on applying Franklin's advice on avoiding extremes to modern life, I'd suggest Brett and Kate McKay's article over on The Art of Manliness.
No, it's really the latter part of the quote that has been sticking with me lately. At first blush this phrase, "forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve", may be taken as a simple directive to not blow things out of proportion.
And while that is certainly good advice, I've been struck by how essential this virtue is to both general mindfulness (avoiding a reactive mental state, being able to examine your own thoughts instead of just being trapped in your head), and to the Stoic notion of clearly contemplating what you do and do not control.
Sometimes it seems like there is always somebody, somewhere, everywhere you go, trying their best to upset your apple cart and laugh at the mess. First, I think it's important to remember that this isn't actually true - humans are self-absorbed creatures, and we have a tendency to ascribe malice to other people's actions when they run counter to our own goals. Sometimes this even takes on the nightmarish characteristics of social anxiety - that feeling of being in a crowd and worrying that everybody is talking about you or judging you. But the truth is, everybody is so wrapped up in their own stuff, you're probably the furthest thing from their mind.
But let us set that stubbornly persistent misperception aside for a moment, and consider those situations where people really do wish us ill, or even actively insult or disrespect us.
What do you gain from giving in to that voice in your head that demands that you retaliate? Yes, you may have been wronged. Your new enemy may have earned all the venom and disdain you can dispense.
But in that moment you have ceded control. You have taken the path of least resistence, flipped the proactive/reactive switch in your mind, and abandoned your own goals in service to some other individual's agenda.
You can convince yourself that it's a question of honor or justice, and that you'll never let any affront to your dignity go unpunished.
Or you can let it go and retake control. Just because you think an injury deserves a reaction doesn't mean you have to drop everything and let that resentment take over your life. If you must go out into the world in search of justice, do so on your own terms. Don't dance to somebody else's tune.
Forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.