Keep Calm and Be Stoic: A Practical Response to the Unthinkable

I’ll keep this brief, because it’s 5AM and the unthinkable has happened: reality star-turned-political savior Donald J. Trump has just clinched the Presidency of the United States. Yes, the same Donald J. Trump who’s been publicly supportive of restricting Muslim immigration to the U.S.; the same Donald J. Trump who’s been accused by over a dozen women of sexual assault; the same Donald J. Trump whose vociferous support for a wall along the Southern border has launched him into the stratosphere of adoring white nationalists and American Nazis. And yet, it all remains under our control.

As the ancient Stoics have taught us, it is only our response to these events which determines their effect on our world. In other words, President-elect Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated in January 2017. This is unchanging. Our response, however, will determine the nature of his victory. In the words of Epictectus:

“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions.”

And again,

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own . . .” — Epictetus, Discourses, 2.5.4–5

If President Trump issues a directive for ICE to deport Muslims and Mexicans en masse, then it becomes our responsibility to care for our neighbor. To take it upon ourselves to draw a line in the sand; what we’re willing to endure (or even observe) and what we are not.

If President Trump continues berating and groping women, we seize the opportunity to steadfastly defend every woman in our lives.

If President Trump peddles lies and misinformation to justify hatred and intolerance for others, then it becomes our duty to inform our loved ones of truth and what we stand for. To resist what we know to be wrong. That is in our power.

Do the Right Thing, an adage we likely take for granted. And yet it’s all we can honestly adhere to. This is an opportunity (an obstacle, yes, but a very important opportunity) to exhibit our greatest qualities: resilience, compassion, camaraderie, steadfastness, dignity. We need now more than ever to listen to our neighbors, listen to ourselves, and stand up for what we believe in. Regardless of the outcome of this national election, we have the ability to affect our immediate lives in an infinitely greater way than a Trump or a Clinton could ever be capable of.