Stoicism is a philosophy originating in ancient Greece and later adopted by many ancient Romans, including Marcus Aurelius, the last of the Five Good [Roman] Emperors. It is a way of thinking and living that focuses on maximizing joy while minimizing negative emotions and life events: anger, fear, grief, loneliness, annoyance, being insulted, being exiled, aging, and dying. Practicing stoics use different strategies to make stressful situations into manageable opportunities to learn. For example, one maxim of Stoicism is: it could always be worse.
Throughout Climate Summer I have had many chances to put “it could always be worse” into practice. When our team, Team East, found ourselves at the end of our 40 mile bike ride to Ashby with a snapped bicycle chain, a snapped chain breaker, a heavy downpour all around us, and thunder and lightning booming louder and louder, I started thinking of ways our situation could be worse. A man shielded us from the rain by opening his garage-he didn’t have to do that. A bicycle chain is an inexpensive part of a bicycle to repair or replace-a rim could’ve been crushed. Nobody fell off their bicycles even if the roads were slippery enough for that to happen. Nobody was struck by lightning even when we were briefly in a lightning storm. Our bodies are waterproof and the water was refreshing after peddling for 37 miles. It was a balmy 70 degrees Fahrenheit-it could’ve been an icy 20 degrees.
Suddenly the bicycle ride through a storm didn’t seem so unmanageable to me. Tuula and Nicholas, the team members that I took shelter with in the garage, seemed to think so as well. After a few minutes under the roof of the garage, Tuula and I strapped on our bicycle helmets, hopped on our soaked saddles, and peddled the last 3 miles to the Ashby church; Nicholas heartily running along with us, pushing Tuula’s 80 pound trailer. We sang, we made jokes, laughed at our misadventure, and listened to the soundtrack of Epic Battle Music blasting from my phone’s speakers. Not a bad way to handle a broken down bike in a storm.
Another strategy of Stoicism that has come in handy during Climate Summer is the Trichotomy of Control and the Goal Internalizaion. The Trichotomy of Control states that there are some factors you can’t control at all, like whether it’ll rain or shine; that there are some factors that you have only some control over, like how long you can ride your bicycle without a break; and there are some factors you can control fully (or close to it), like how you react to a canvasee telling you you’re wrong curtly or without evidence. Additionally, with the factors you have only some control over, you use Goal Internalization. For example, instead of thinking: “I’m going to ride my bike for 20 miles non-stop,” you think “I’m going to try my best to ride my bike for 20 miles non-stop.” That way, if you find yourself unable to continue peddling after mile 15, you still succeeded in your goal. “I tried my best and biked 15 miles” makes me significantly happier than “I failed to bike 5 more miles”.
Going back to the broken bicycle chain in our trek to Ashby, when I was hunched over in the rain beside Nicholas’s upside-down bicycle, I thought to myself: “I’m going to try my best to fit these extra chain links on Nicholas’s bike chain, even if it is raining and there’s time pressure to get out of the storm (two factors that were out of my control).” Unfortunately, since the extra chain links were surplus that came with my bike chain, the pin’s diameter was too large to fit into the outer and inner plates of Nicholas’s chain-a lesson learned with a broken chain breaker. Broken chain breaker in hand, I succeeded in trying my best to fix the chain considering the improper parts and poor weather and didn’t beat myself up for not being able to fix it. Instead, I chose to learn to always carry proper sized spare links, a spare chain breaker pin, and to have a plan B or even C.
Often times, whether we are joyful or not in life has not only to do with what is happening around us, but how we process the information. If you’re trying to organize a Pipeline Awareness meeting in your town or cycling to buy groceries for the first time, try internalizing your goals. Keep in mind the factors you can and can’t control, and if something unexpected happens, which will probably happen, think of the silver lining.