The Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus (55-135 CE) once said, “People are not disturbed by things, but the view they take of things.” Continuously in philosophy, psychology, and religion we hear that it is our view of things that affects reality. Stoic philosophy is built on the idea, as are the Buddhist concept of non-attachment and the Taoist idea of allowing water to flow where it will. Our attitudes cause our suffering.
Yet, when behavioral psychologist Herb Kimmel was asked about Epictetus’ idea, Kimmel responded, “Yes, but what about things like bullets?”
Now, that’s the real problem, isn’t it? Our detachment does not affect things such as flying bullets. Or disease. Or aging. Or lots of things.
Fact is, both ideas are true: our attitudes cause our suffering; but so does reality itself.
The human dilemma is that both things are true.
Both things are true.
I spent time as a chaplain in a hospital where the entire top floor was called “palliative care.” That is, patients went to that floor when another medical procedure held very little hope. Patients on the palliative care floor were what is termed in the business “actively dying.”
Actively dying patients seldom have ILLUSIONS about what is happening, but they have widely varying ATTITUDES about what is happening. And, one of the things I noticed during my time there is that those attitudes don’t vary much according to religious beliefs.
The variation is in what people CHOOSE as the definition of their dying.
I have held the hands of people who were weeping and hyperventilating as they faced the inevitability of their mortality; I have held the hands of those who were smiling and beatific as they faced their end.
Same reality. Same “thing” as Epictetus put it.
The difference is “the view they take of things.”