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You Can Let This Make You Miserable, Or Come To Terms With It

Daily Stoic Emails

It doesn’t matter how important you are. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. It doesn’t matter how used to getting your way you are, or how much you have planned and prepared.

A single driver can decide to slow down lanes of traffic and lines of cars. A single bureaucrat can decide not to accept your paperwork, not to approve your application. One person with a grudge can tie you up in months, or years of lawsuits–one lawyer can bleed you more than you ever thought possible. One jerk can pass a virus to you and your family…or worse.

There’s an old story about a powerful politician who asked for an extra pad of butter from their waiter at a banquet. “Sorry,” the waiter said, “one pad per person.” Indignant, the politician began to rant and rave, going on about how if only the waiter knew who he was dealing with. “Well, do you know who I am?” the waiter replied? No, the politician responded. “I’m the guy with the butter,” he said.

Marcus Aurelius has a cryptic allusion to a customs officer or a toll booth operator in Meditations, suggesting that even he and his powerful entourage occasionally felt these very human chokepoints. They are timeless. They may not be distributed evenly or equally, but they are universal. No one avoids them all. No one can fight them all.

We just have to learn to accept that we are not in control. That we must–from time to time…or most of the time–experience the consequences of other people’s decisions, their whims, their vices, their mistakes, their egos. We can let this make us miserable, or we can come to terms with it. We can rail against the world, be angry at the causes of all this, or we could remember what Marcus said–that the world won’t notice or care.

And there is no reason to add frustration on top of frustration.