Challenging Automatic Judgments.

Rain, rain, rain! Yesterday and today, it rained here in eastern NC. I’ve always enjoyed the rain: trancy headspaces, long introspective walks, grey atmospheres. Sighhh…  ***DNNNN DNNNN DNNNN!!!!*** ALARM! Whoa!  Just as I was typing that last little part, my phone buzzed a warning: FLASH FLOOD WARNING THIS AREA TIL 8:00pm EST. So, even though I’m a devout pluviophile, I should use CAUTION when leaving the house tonight. The wind is picking up too. I’m negatively visualizing an inverted umbrella in my future.

Now speaking of using caution, Epictetus says we should use it in regards to our MORAL PURPOSE. That piece of divinity within us; our RULING FACULTY. We can be confident as we go about our lives concerning externals, but must take a moment to really exercise caution in our thinking about impressions and before making choices.

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“We have often said, and shown, that the use of impressions represents for us the essence of good and evil, and that good and evil have to do with the will alone. And if that is true, then nothing is impractical in the philosophers’ advice to ‘Be confident in everything outside the will, and cautious in everything under the will’s control.'” (Epictetus’ Discourses, Bk II.I 4-5)

Yesterday day at work, around an hour after opening the restaurant, I walked out front to greet passerbyers, with hopes of reeling them in. I also enjoy hearing the sounds of a busy city street and people watching. When someone chooses our restaurant, I’ll open and hold the door for them and often serve them, IF it’s my turn in rotation – something I don’t have control over.

Now, as I’m standing outside of the restaurant (’twas a slow shift mind you) I looked to the left, and saw coming down the sidewalk at a distance, a very large man. He would be classified medically as obese, I’d wager. As I turned my head back to the view in front of me, something funny happened. I went META! I caught myself thinking, automatically, “Yuck, that’s disgusting.” The unconscious unraveling process of me catching that impression/judgement, was met by the small amount of free will I do have. I consciously combated the negative thought toward the mans weight with, “He’s a person too. He may eat a lot, but he’s like me, just with a different addiction.” There was something liberating about consciously stepping in and analyzing the validity and HEALTH of my speedy (often automatic) judgements and thought processes, then saying, “NO! I’m not going to think like that.”

As the man approached, I greeted him, nodding my head, and mentioned the warm weather in December. He replied, “Yes, it is odd…” then said something about breaking for lunch while there was a lull in the rain. The gentleman did not have an accent, was very articulate, (enunciating well) and had a warm air about him.

I’m glad I caught this, but for the love of Zeno, how can I resist the pull from such unconscious clutter? What comprises the 98% of my unconsciousness? Can I recalibrate these automatic tendencies by mindfully practicing Stoic principles on a daily basis? What does neuroscience have to say about habit change and free will? Heavy questions. Epictetus says:

“What aid can we find to combat habit? The opposed habit.”(Discourses Bk I 27.4)

“Every habit and faculty is formed or strengthened by the corresponding act – walking makes you walk better, running makes you a better runner. If you want to be literate, read, if you want to be a painter, paint. Go a month without reading, occupied by something else, and you’ll see what the result is. And if you’re laid up a mere ten days, when you get up and try to walk any distance you’ll find your legs barely able to support you. So if you like doing something, do it regularly; if you don’t like doing something, make a habit of doing something different.” (Discourses Bk II 18.1-4)

Booyah! Epictetus with the SCOOOORE! The crowd goes wild! ***The Stoics are doing the wave across the Colosseum!!!*** I know, I know, Epictetus didn’t lecture there. 😉

I hear it often said in 12 step groups: “It’s easier to stay sober, than it is to get sober.” Same idea can be applied to combating negative thought patterns. PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE, and in my case, practicing MINDFULNESS and SCRUTINY of judgements that follow initial impressions. Along the same lines, If the aforementioned  gentleman wanted to go on a diet, exercise and lose 150 pounds, I imagine it would probably be one of the most difficult things at first, but once hAbItUaTeD, seem routine to him.

In closing, I would like to think there are many others that engage in quick judgments based on cues then quickly go about whatever it was they were doing without giving them a second thought. What kinds of fires are we fueling when we do that? Some things ARE NOT what they seem, while others are – obviously the man was overweight, BUT he shouldn’t have been dismissed so incompassionately.

There’s plenty more to talk about and unpack related to this topic, but am going to call it a night. I’ll have to wait til tomorrow to dive into this new comic book I biked to get in the rain: The Extraordinary X-Men #4. Mr.Sinister is holding Nightcrawler hostage for who knows why and the Storm and Iceman are trying to locate them to save him. There’s something about them trying to close a hell portal, etc etc… So lets encourage and admonish those we can, but most importantly start with ourselves!

~Christopher

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Author: Stoic Mime

Life student of philosophy. Artist and musician. Always striving to live as a "good" person and to discourage unnecessary suffering in myself and others by drawing on Art and Stoic philosophy. Like many things in life, though, it's not always that simple. ;)

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