Another has done me wrong? Let him see to it. He has his own tendencies, and his own affairs. What have I now is what the common nature has willed, and what I endeavor to accomplish now is what my nature wills.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.25
Today’s question was why do I need to care that someone else screwed up?
I wrote my own notes on today’s question in my journal, but I am taking a different path tonight.
After reading a post by J. Money that really had me digging deep into today’s question of the day and what I have been learning from Stoicism, I thought I would use his scenario to speak to tonight’s question.
If you have not clicked through to read J. Money’s post, here is a quick summary:
- J. Money’s wife is pregnant
- His landlord said they could stay in the house until the school year ended
- With only hours notice, his landlord changed his mind and kicked them to the curb
J. Money has two questions for his readers on this one:
- What would you have done if you were our landlords?
- How would you have handled it, if you were us?
How appropriate for question 1, the quote I read before this morning’s meditation:
My reasoned choice is as indifferent to the reasoned choice of my neighbor, as to his breath and body. However much we’ve been made for cooperation, the ruling reason in each of us is master of its own affairs. If this weren’t the case, the evil in someone else could become my harm, and God didn’t mean for someone else to control my misfortune.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 8.56
While at the outset, it appears that J. Money’s landlord behaved in a way that I find unacceptable, that’s not a fair statement.
I truly don’t know how his landlord behaved. In fact, all I know is my perception of how he behaved based on the facts that J. Money noted.
While it seems that he may have kicked out J. Money, his pregnant wife and children only for the extra money he would receive, there may be some pieces to the story that I don’t know about, for example:
- Did his doctor tell him he’s dying and needs a surgery shortly?
- Is someone in his family sick and he’s selling the house to afford their treatment?
- Does he need the extra money he will get from selling it in the Spring versus Summer so that he can pay down debt that is crippling his family?
I think what you can see by these questions is that there are a myriad of reasons that his landlord could have kicked J. Money out of the home, despite having made a promise to him.
Without having been in his landlord’s shoes, it is impossible for you, me, anyone to actually respond how we would have behaved in that situation because it is not our situation, it is his situation.
A quote then, from Epictetus, to further dive into the first question:
When a man assents, then, to what is false, know that he had no wish to assent to the false: ‘for no soul is robbed of the truth with its own consent,’ as Plato says, but the false seemed to him true.
Epictetus, Discourses, 28
What Epictetus is alluding to in this quote is that no person does wrong purposely, for all people seek to do what is right by their very nature.
More importantly, we do what we believe is right in a given situation based on the knowledge that is available to us at the time we make the decision.
Generally, no one does the wrong thing deliberately.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditatoins
I will emphasize again, we do not know what his landlord’s full situation is; as such, it is unfair to ascribe any label to the decision that was made.
Outside stoicism, I have also read similar concepts in the book Feeling Good: A New Mood Therapy, which is one of the most revolutionary books I have ever read. Specifically, an important lesson is that we tend to ascribe certain beliefs to the behavior of others, without recognizing that there can be millions of reasons we aren’t aware of. In general, like the Stoics argued, Dr. Burns argues that the actual driver of the behavior is likely more benign that our mind wants to give it credit for.
I think J. Money, and family, handled the situation as they ought to have handled the situation. Further, I would posit that this adversity has actually made them stronger and it sounds as if they’re in a better situation.
While the rent is $100 more per month, here are some benefits to the new home:
- +1,400 sq ft
- +1 bedroom
- Bigger yard and play area
- A more livable home [open and sunny]
- A private driveway versus street parking
- Proximity to his son’s school = J. can walk him to school EVERY DAY
To me, picking up items #1 to #6 for $100 is an absolutely amazing opportunity for J. Money and his family. It’s phenomenal. I think he should thank his landlord, this is an amazing outcome.
Now, some quotes that tie to this scenario from Marcus Aurelius, Meditations:
- Nothing happens to anybody they cannot endure.
- Pain is neither unbearable nor unending, as long as you keep in mind its limits and don’t magnify them in your imagination.
- If we recognize that all events are foreseen by God and are part of his plan, and that plan is unfailingly good, then it must follow that we accept whatever fate has in store for us. Whatever is, is right.
Having to move ones’ family when their wife is pregnant and they have young children can be challenging, but it’s not unbearable.
Having someone break their word to you is unfortunate, but it does not harm you unless in your mind you let it harm you.
As well, as per the bold and underlined text, I believe that J. and his family are actually better off as a result of the landlord’s decision. While some don’t like to use fate, I believe that when one door closes, others open.
- Without being J. Money’s landlord, I cannot say how I would have behaved.
- We ought to not attribute to his landlord’s behavior the belief that he behaved with malice. People choose to behave in a way they believe is right.
- Regardless of the decision that was made by his landlord, J. and his family handled themselves well ,managed to push through the adversity, and ultimately their situation appears better than it was.
In the end, let’s assume that J. Money’s landlord did behave without good intent. That is the landlord’s problem:
The person who does wrong, does wrong to themselves. The unjust person is unjust to themselves – making themselves evil.
So other people hurt me? That’s their problem. Their character and actions are not mine. What is done to me is ordained by nature, what I do by my own.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations