Feeling Sorry For Yourself Is Unnatural

My wife and I live on a farm outside Austin, Texas. A few weeks ago, our favorite goose mysteriously went missing. It was almost certainly killed and eaten by some predator. A few months prior to that, our beloved pet donkey was seriously injured fighting off a mountain lion. Thankfully he survived, but it was a reminder in how fragile life is, and of course, a raw moment which revealed just how much we love those animals.

Yet, it was also a chance for a Stoic lesson. We might have felt sad for the goose, but certainly the goose felt no anxiety about death or the afterlife. Her companions seem to hardly notice she is gone. The donkey looked pitiful for some time, but really, besides the scabs and scars, he was perfectly happy. Of everyone “involved” in the events, it was ironically the humans who seemed to be traumatized the most.

When we suffer and feel emotional, it’s worth remembering the line from DH Lawrence’s poem,

“I never saw a wild thing
Sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
Without ever have felt sorry for itself.”

The Stoics talk a lot about grief. They know that it is real and they certainly wouldn’t pretend that avoiding it completely is advisable, or even possible. But they always loved reminders that self-pity and getting overly emotional wasn’t productive. That it wasn’t natural either–and that we can find inspirations for strength and fortitude everywhere, even in a little bird or a donkey.