Monday, July 28, 2008

Indifference and the Untameable John

Subtitle: How Potty-Training Made Mother a Stoic

I have often found great use for Stoicism's ethics--though little for its cosmology--when confronted with the more trying bits of life. My very human tendency to defeat suffering through apatheia (understood here as "clear judgment" rather than our modern sense of indifferent lethargy) has served me well. Marcus Aurelius gives pagan voice to my little serenity prayer:

"Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill... I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him; for we have come into the world to work together..."

But, after one year of attempted toilet training, my morning mantra has changed:

"Say to myself in the early (very early) morning: I shall meet today an intractable child unwilling to sit upon the potty. This has come upon her through ignorance of diaper-less living... She cannot harm me, for I am already potty-trained and wear not diapers; I cannot be angry with her, for it shall all be in accordance with nature."

I find myself unmoved by her protests and tears. Her refusal to "go" anywhere but in her drawers leaves me quiet, accepting, but firm. It is all in accordance with nature. The flip-side: Her successes (which are coming more and more frequently, Deo gratias), too, leave me unmoved. Therefore, in my stolid equanimity before the highs and lows of life (i.e., potty-training), I have become a confirmed Stoic. All is as it has been determined.

Too bad they were condemned as heretics. I shall have to find a more redeemed version.

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