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Choose Not to Be Offended, and You Will Not Be: What the Stoics Taught

Choose Not to Be Offended, and You Will Not Be: What the Stoics Taught

When somebody offends you or causes you distress, think of the anxiety as their problem, not yours.

The Stoic philosophers taught that if you choose not to be offended by others’ actions, you will not be. An offense is up to your interpretation. Instead, treat others with kindness and assert your autonomy.

This moral is exemplified in the following clip from the movie Gandhi (1983) portraying racial discrimination in South Africa and Gandhi’s espousal of Christian values. A young Gandhi and his friend Charles Freer Andrews are walking in a Johannesburg suburb when they’re accosted by menacing louts who yell “Look what’s comin’!” and “A white shepherd leading a brown Sammy!” (Sammy—for swami—was a South African derogatory term for an Indian.) Despite Andrews’s misgivings, Gandhi strides along rather nervously and invokes the Christian principle of turning the other cheek. When one lout’s intentions of “cleaning up the neighborhood a little” are disrupted by his mother, Gandhi responds, “You’ll find there’s room for us all!”

Mastering an Offensive Situation Is Ultimately a Matter of Mastering Yourself

'Meditations: A New Translation' by Marcus Aurelius (ISBN 0812968255) In Meditations, the great Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote about taking responsibility for the things within your control:

Someone despises me. That’s their problem. Mine: not to do or say anything despicable. Someone hates me. Their problem. Mine: to be patient and cheerful with everyone, including them. Ready to show them their mistake. Not spitefully, or to show off my own self-control, but in an honest, upright way.

Marcus Aurelius counsels compassion for those who offend you:

When people injure you, ask yourself what good or harm they thought would come of it. If you understand that, you’ll feel sympathy rather than outrage or anger. Your sense of good and evil may be the same as theirs, or near it, in which case you have to excuse them. Or your sense of good and evil may differ from theirs. In which case they’re misguided and deserve your compassion. Is that so hard?

Strength dissipates when you choose to be offended, and harbor malice. Marcus Aurelius counsels acting compassionately towards those who offend you:

That kindness is invincible, provided it’s sincere—not ironic or an act. What can even the most vicious person do if you keep treating him with kindness and gently set him straight—if you get the chance—correcting him cheerfully at the exact moment that he’s trying to do you harm. “No, no, my friend. That isn’t what we’re here for. It isn’t me who’s harmed by that. It’s you.” And show him, gently and without pointing fingers, that it’s so. That bees don’t behave like this— or any other animals with a sense of community. Don’t do it sardonically or meanly, but affectionately—with no hatred in your heart. And not ex cathedra or to impress third parties, but speaking directly. Even if there are other people around.

Another Stoic Philosopher, Epictetus, who advocated integrity, self-management, and personal freedom, wrote in Discourses (transcribed and published by his pupil Arrian):

For there are two rules we should always have at hand: That nothing is good or evil, but choice, and, That we are not to lead events, but to follow them. “My brother ought not to have treated me so”. Very true, but it is for him to see to that. However he treats me, I am to act rightly with regard to him. For this is my concern, the other is somebody else’s; this no one can hinder, the other is open to hindrance.

Idea for Impact: To Be Offended Is a Choice You Make

Don't Take Things Personally: To Be Offended Is a Choice You Make When somebody insults, mistreats, snubs, or disrespects you, choose not to be upset. To be offended is an issue of the self—it’s a choice you intentionally make. Taking offense is about what you want them to be. It is about your desire to change their perspective and behavior.

Try to isolate offense by choosing to respond differently: by overlooking others’ wrongdoings with compassion and reminding yourself that you cannot change others, just your own self.

The Hebrew Bible (or the Old Testament) instructs, “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11.) To be offended is a choice you make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon you by someone or something else.

Choose not to let others dictate your emotions—purposely or otherwise. Live life with the wisdom that nobody can make you do anything and that you alone can control how you react to your surroundings and circumstances. Choose to be more at peace.

Life Is to You as to Everyone Else: What the Stoics Taught

Mosaic of Alexander the Great, who Sucked at Geometry

Life is as hard for one as for another

Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca’s Moral Letters to Lucilius (Latin orig. Epistulae morales ad Lucilium) tells a story of Alexander the Great’s schooling.

Even at a young age, the hugely ambitious Alexander dreamt of conquering empires. He had no patience for formal learning. When faced with the difficulty of understanding geometry, he whined to his tutor, “Teach me something easy.” His tutor replied, “These things are the same for all, as hard for one as for another.”

'Letters from a Stoic' by Lucius Annaeus Seneca (ISBN 0140442103) Alexander, king of Macedon, began to study geometry; unhappy man, because he would thereby learn how puny was that earth of which he had seized but a fraction!

Unhappy man, I repeat, because he was bound to understand that he was bearing a false title. For who can be “great” in that which is puny?

The lessons which were being taught him were intricate and could be learned only by assiduous application; they were not the kind to be comprehended by a madman, who let his thoughts range beyond the ocean.

“Teach me something easy!” he cries; but his teacher answers: “These things are the same for all, as hard for one as for another.”

Imagine that nature is saying to us: “Those things of which you complain are the same for all. I cannot give anything easier to any man, but whoever wishes will make things easier for himself.” In what way? By equanimity.

You must suffer pain, and thirst, and hunger, and old age too, if a longer stay among men shall be granted you; you must be sick, and you must suffer loss and death.

On a related note, the great Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations (trans. Gregory Hays,) “Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both. They were absorbed alike into the life force of the world, or dissolved alike into atoms.”

Idea for Impact: Put your problems and worries in perspective

Life Is to You as to Everyone Else Beyond the randomness (or providence for those of you with a religious bent) of where we’re born and whom we’re born to, life is generally fair to all and cannot be easier for anyone. The trials and tribulations of life are equally difficult for everyone. Complaining about others having it easier is futile.

Learn to play the hand you’ve been dealt. If you’re fraught with pain and suffering now, don’t ask, “Why is my life so difficult? Why can’t it be easier?” Take solace in the realization that even the greatest and the mightiest had their share of life’s struggles. Make it easier by viewing life with calmness, composure, and evenness of temper.

A Prayer to Help You Deal with Annoying People: What the Stoics Taught

How to Deal with Annoying People

The 18th Century French writer Nicolas Chamfort once urged, “A man must swallow a toad every morning if he wishes to be sure of finding nothing still more disgusting before the day is over.”

'Meditations: A New Translation' by Marcus Aurelius (ISBN 0812968255) If you’re not looking forward to annoying people who seem to elevate provocation to an art form, consider the following prayer offered by the great Stoic Philosopher-Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121 CE–180 CE) in Meditations (trans. Gregory Hays.)

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own—not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me with ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.

Along those lines, the Buddha taught his followers to transcend ignorance through knowledge by observing four practices of inner conduct: loving kindness, altruistic compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity with regard to the impure and the evil. And in the New Testament,

  • Luke 23:34 suggests, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
  • Peter 2:23 offers the example of Jesus, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to Him who judges justly.”
  • Romans 12:17–21 recommend, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Considered Response, Not Naiveté

Aurelius’s urging tolerance, understanding, and patience towards difficult people may sound like naiveté at first glance, but what he urges is a wise and measured response.

Aurelius (121–180 CE) was one of the great Stoic philosophers. Stoic philosophy was founded by Zeno of Citium in the 3rd century BCE. Its core themes of inner solitude, forbearance in adversity, and acceptance of fate gained far-flung following and made it the dominant philosophy across the ancient Greek and Roman worlds.

One of Stoic philosophy’s central beliefs is that destructive emotions result from our errors in judgment. The Stoics argue that many things aren’t within our control, as I elaborated in previous articles (here and here.) The best way to deal with situations we have little control over is to anticipate and neutralize any negative feelings.

Stoic Forbearance through Emotional Detachment

The Stoics argued that our lives will be dramatically different if we realize that we can neither avoid annoying people nor change them. We must accept this reality and work on how we respond and interact with them. In On Tranquility of Mind, the other great Stoic philosopher Seneca (65 BCE–4 CE) wrote:

By looking forward to whatever can happen as though it would happen, he will soften the attacks of all ills, which bring nothing strange to those who have been prepared beforehand and are expecting them; it is the unconcerned and those that expect nothing but good fortune upon whom they fall heavily. Sickness comes, captivity, disaster, conflagration, but none of them is unexpected—I always knew in what disorderly company Nature had confined me.

How to Handle Difficult People

The Stoics encouraged a meditative practice of negative visualization called premeditatio malorum (premeditation of evils.) As suggested by Aurelius in his prayer, premeditatio malorum consists of contemplating the potential challenges of the day ahead, thinking about which of the four cardinal virtues (courage, equanimity, self-control and wisdom) we may have to engage and how. By rehearsing not to resign ourselves to adversities, we’re prepared for a more considered response—we could forgive, forget, appreciate and empathize.

As part of the premeditatio malorum practice, we’re to contemplate a priori potential difficulties, setbacks, and misfortunes. While envisaging all the difficulties and evils we could foresee seems like an unwholesome—perhaps even a morbid—exercise, the Stoics argue that this practice can help us react to bad news with equanimity and hence minimize the impact of bad news on our self-worth or confidence. If and when a bad thing should actually happen, our initial response would be to think that “this wasn’t totally unexpected.” While we’d rather it hadn’t happened, we would nevertheless not be surprised by it because this potential outcome was expected all along.

Idea for Impact: Cultivate Equanimity and Manage Yourself First

To handle a difficult person, prepare yourself by thinking of all the things that could go wrong. Don’t focus on how he behaves, but focus on how you can react to him. By ignoring his irritating behaviors, you can neutralize his effect on you. In other words, if someone is being difficult but you don’t feel the difficulty he’s imposed upon you, you don’t have a problem.

The cognitive reframing suggested by the Stoics can be particularly effective in situations where you have little to no control. It’s far more productive to focus on your own behavior because you can control it. And by managing yourself first, you’ll come to appreciate that the annoying person isn’t as annoying anymore. As the other Stoic philosopher Epictetus reminds us, “Man is shaped not by events but the meaning he gives them.”

Reframe Your Thinking, Get Better Answers: What the Stoics Taught

Reframe Your Thinking and Get Better Answers

The solution to many a difficult problem can be found merely by reframing the problem, thereby changing or adjusting your perception of the issue.

Reframing is a very effective technique to shift your view of a specific problem, event, or person. When you approach a situation from another perspective, you are likely to reevaluate your intentions and find alternative, acceptable solutions to your situations.

Reframing helps in two ways:

  • Reframing allows you to consider a problem within a positive—rather than a negative—context. For example, if you’re trying out a diet, you can reframe it by asking yourself “What are some foods I like that I should eat more of? What new foods can I experiment with?” rather than wondering, “What foods must I give up?” Reframing can help turn a problem into an opportunity, a weakness into a strength, an impossibility into a work-around, and a conflict into a mere lack of understanding.
  • Reframing can also broaden a problem’s context, thus helping you recognize its systemic contributors. In other words, by reframing, you look at a problem within its larger context. For example, you could reframe an individual issue, “Why won’t Tom gel with our team?” to a systemic problem, “What are the attributes of our team that make Tom feel excluded?”

“Redirect your prayers … and watch what happens”

The great Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote in “Meditations” (trans. Gregory Hays,)

'Meditations: A New Translation' by Marcus Aurelius (ISBN 0812968255)Either the gods have power or they don’t. If they don’t, why pray? If they do, then why not pray for something else instead of for things to happen or not to happen? Pray not to feel fear. Or desire, or grief. If the gods can do anything, they can surely do that for us.

But those are things the gods left up to me.

Then isn’t it better to do what’s up to you—like a free man—than to be passively controlled by what isn’t, like a slave or beggar? And what makes you think the gods don’t care about what’s up to us?

Start praying like this and you’ll see.

Not “some way to sleep with her”—but a way to stop wanting to.

Not “some way to get rid of him”—but a way to stop trying.

Not “some way to save my child”—but a way to lose your fear.

Redirect your prayers like that, and watch what happens.

Idea for Impact: Reframe, Always Reframe

If you find yourself stuck with a problem or difficult situation, try reframing your view of that problem. Consider alternate perspectives, revise your goals, and reconsider how you see the way forward.

To reframe, simply step back from your present viewpoint and alter the “lens” through which you perceive the reality. Discover your unspoken assumptions, challenge your beliefs, change the attributes of your perception of the problem, and downplay or emphasize various elements of the situation. By “looking at it another way” you can derive new meanings and define different courses of action.

This is Yoga for the Brain: Multidisciplinary Learning

In Praise of Multidisciplinary Frameworks for Better Thinking You need a broad-based understanding to succeed in today’s increasingly complex world.

Modern scientific and technological advances are increasingly born at the frontiers of more than one science disciplines.

It’s impossible to know everything. However, if you work to understand the basics of the biggest, most important paradigms in the fields of science, humanities, and social sciences, you can progressively expand your decision-making process.

A multidisciplinary methodology entails drawing suitably from multiple disciplines to examine problems outside of their normal boundaries and reach solutions based on an understanding of complex situations.

Multidisciplinarity Leads to Better Internalization of Knowledge

Multidisciplinarity allows you can transform a perspective in one discipline to expand your thought-frameworks in other disciplines. The renowned venture capitalist Paul Graham, author of the bestselling Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age, said this best when he once wrote,

Studying things from unrelated subjects (multidisciplinary learning) is a lot like yoga for brain. You don’t actually get anywhere when you do yoga. You stand in one place and bend yourself in various shapes. But it makes you more flexible, so when you go out and do walk around, you can walk better.

“Cross-Training for the Mind” à la Charlie Munger

'Poor Charlie's Almanack' by Charlie Munger (ISBN 1578645018) The great investor Charlie Munger, Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, is a big proponent of multidisciplinary thinking. This distinguished beacon of rationality and wisdom coined the term “latticework of mental models” to enable the “cross-training for the mind.” Rather than silo your mind just in the narrow areas you tend to concentrate on at college and work, Munger advocates developing a broad, functional set of interdisciplinary knowledge about the world, which can serve you in all parts of life. According to the anthology Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Munger said at a 1998 talk at the Harvard Law School,

If A is a narrow professional, B consists of the big, extra-useful concepts from other disciplines, then, clearly, the professional possessing A plus B will usually be better off than the poor possessor of A alone. How could it be otherwise? And thus, the only rational excuse for not acquiring B is that it is not practical to do so, given the man’s need to A and the other urgent demands in his life. I will later try to demonstrate that this excuse for unidisciplinarity, at least for our most gifted people, is usually unsound.

Many of the world’s leading companies in science and technology are employing multidisciplinary people for managerial positions. These people understand a range of science principles and methods and can synthesize the works of domain-specific experts to invent creative solutions to problems.

Idea for Impact: Pursue Multidisciplinary Thinking

People who think very broadly and comprehend many different models from many different disciplines make better decisions.

Pursue multidisciplinary thinking. Open your mind to new ideas and new experiences. Make new friends, travel afar, read more, and discover new stories.

Interact with people who work in different disciplines and dabble with the arts and the media. Let the new sights, sounds, smells, languages, tastes, sensations, stories, and perspectives spark your creativity.

How to Guard Against Anger Erupting

The Destructive Effects of Anger are Easily Recognized

Most people who have problems managing their anger hate themselves for losing their temper but can’t bring themselves to prevent their flare-ups.

'The Dhammapada: Teachings of the Buddha' by Gil Fronsdal (ISBN 1590306066) Here’s an appropriate reading from Chapter 17, “Anger”, of the Dhammapada (trans. Gil Fronsdal), a profoundly insightful compilation of the historical Buddha‘s teachings:

Guard against anger erupting in your body;
Be restrained with your body.
Letting go of bodily misconduct,
Practice good conduct with your body.

Guard against anger erupting in your speech;
Be restrained with your speech.
Letting go of verbal misconduct,
Practice good conduct with your speech.

Guard against anger erupting in your mind;
Be restrained with your mind.
Letting go of mental misconduct,
Practice good conduct with your mind.

The wise are restrained in body,
Restrained in speech.
The wise are restrained in mind.
They are fully restrained.

Discover Ways to Work with Anger and Other Negative Emotions

In its many forms, anger can be extremely energetic. When even a mild annoyance arises due to some apparent injustice, it can quickly grow and overwhelm you. Your inner peace is lost instantly.

When anger surfaces, it usually takes you over by the time you come to observe it. Your mind gets infuriated under the direct influence of aggression and can tempt you to act impulsively through aggressive words or actions—which consecutively feed even more anger.

The mind’s furor intensifies until you are able to lash out like a cornered cat. Even if you can repress your emotions in the heat of the moment, anger can manifest as a subtle simmering of resentment that you carry along with you for some interval of time.

How to guard against anger erupting in your body, your speech, and your mind

How to Refrain from Erupting in Anger

The most effective way to deal with anger in yourself is by not disregarding or repressing it. Science and experience have shown how poorly “anger containment” strategies work.

When anger rises past a threshold, it requires a reasonable and pleasing expression—an outlet, if you will—to be diffused. The key to expelling anger in a way that must feel good and fair is to invoke your calm, wise self and put out some of the fire of the emotion before moving forward.

To prevent anger from flaring out of control, practice the following first-aid system.

  1. Make a list of what triggers your anger. Most people get angry under predictable circumstances—when faced with situations that they see as unpleasant and unfair. Record events that trigger your anger: being insulted, being blamed unjustly, deceit or laziness in others, anything. Commit them to memory.
  2. When you identify a trigger—when you start to feel angry at someone or at something—induce yourself to immediately take a few deep breaths. As the Founding Father and President Thomas Jefferson suggested, “when angry, count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.” Preferably, break away from the situation for a minute or two: step away, go get water, or go the bathroom. Removing yourself from the offending environment will buy you a few moments to decide how you want to respond.
  3. When you can separate yourself from the cause of anger, take a deep breath, and ask yourself if whatever you’re getting worked up over is a priority. Is the issue worth getting upset over? Put your irate-self wise by posing the following “5-5-5” questions:
    • Will this matter in 5 days?
    • Will this matter in 5 months?
    • Will this matter in 5 years?

The “5-5-5” questions will prevent you from being caught up in the little trivialities of life. Remind yourself how good you’ll feel if you respond as your best, wise self and how bad you’ll feel if you rashly fly off the handle.

Only when you’re feeling less agitated and more calm, only when your sensible mind is back, can you assess the triggers of anger rationally, and take action in an prudent way.

Idea for Impact: Guard Against Anger Erupting in Your Body, Your Speech, and Your Mind

The antidote to anger and aggression is patience. Patience has a great deal to do with being mindful about the storms of distress and refraining from doing or saying anything, no matter how strong the urge to do so may be. Reflect before you respond.

The more you can manage your emotions, the more effective you’ll be.

Enabling the Highest Degrees of Understanding: Book Summary of ‘The Unschooled Mind’

Traditional Schooling Fails to Teach Kids to Ask the Right Questions

'The Unschooled Mind' by Howard Gardner (ISBN 0465024386) In The Unschooled Mind (1991,) Harvard developmental psychologist Howard Gardner makes a persuasive case for why even the brightest students often lack a deep understanding of what traditional schooling purports to teach them.

According to Gardner, students (in elementary schools to graduate colleges) may take exams and earn degrees, but their supposed knowledge turns out deficient in situations that are at variance from the “text-to-test” framework in which they learnt it. To some extent, this disconnect is an outcome of teachers’ settling for “correct-answer compromises” whereby students take the rote repetition of facts, formulas, concepts, and theories for a real understanding of fundamental concepts.

Robust Forms of Intuitive Knowledge

Overall, Gardner argues that children tend to acquire well-established models for perceptive learning and intuitive thinking by the time they are five years old. They develop wide-ranging beliefs about the physical world and distinctive models of events and people.

Traditional Schooling Fails to Teach Kids to Ask the Right Questions Subsequently, when children begin their schooling, they are launched into pedagogic methods that often sidestep—even interfere with—the children’s entrenched patterns of learning and understanding. That is to say, children have to put up with a disagreeable dichotomy between their intuitive learning patterns and the academic learning:

In its theoretical resourcefulness and intuitions, [a 5-year old’s mind] is powerful; in its artistic endeavors, it can be creative and imaginative; in its adventurousness, it is exemplary. … Education that takes seriously the ideas and intuitions of the young child is far more likely to achieve success than education that ignores these views, either considering them to be unimportant or assuming that they will disappear on their own.

Experiential Learning, Supplanted by Critical Analysis and Synthesis, Can Enhance Students’ Points of View

The Unschooled Mind contends that far-reaching knowledge and appreciation of education can occur only when students are allowed to integrate their “prescholastic” learning modes with the scholastic and the disciplinary ways of traditional school education. “The problem is less a difficulty in school learning per se and more a problem in integrating the notational and conceptual knowledge featured in school with the robust forms of intuitive knowledge that have evolved spontaneously during the opening years of life.”

Gardner’s solution to this problem is to situate students in educational environments that pique their curiosity about the subject matter and, at the higher levels of education, challenge their preexisting assumptions. Educating children for the utmost degrees of understanding involves designing educational systems that help students synthesize these several patterns of learning.

Real Education Opens the Way to Thinking, Knowing, and Deeper Understanding

Real Education Opens the Way to Thinking, Knowing, and Deeper Understanding For real learning to occur, Gardner argues, students must have an opportunity to realize their own ignorance, and then ask and explore their own questions. Teachers must regularly expose students to “Christopherian encounters”—compelling personal discoveries of the inconsistencies between their various frames of reference—by approaching any subject matter through at least five instructive channels:

Gardner claims that traditional schooling should incorporate more apprenticing—apprenticeship programs build most effectively on the ways children learn—and schools should become more like children’s museums.

Recommendation: Read The Unschooled Mind by Howard Gardner, especially if you have a child in school. The key takeaway: to enable the highest degrees of understanding, any skills instruction must be systematically reinforced by instruction in which the deployment of the skills makes holistic sense.

Good Questions Encourage Creative Thinking


Thought-provoking questions: potential game changers that are not asked nearly enough

Asking Questions to Encourage Creativity “To think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted,” wrote George F. Kneller (1909–1999), the American academic and pioneer in the field of philosophy of education, in Art and Science of Creativity (1965.) Many people don’t know how to probe their thought processes with questions that encourage creativity.

Consider a brainstorming meeting where a new idea was received with comments and judgments like, “this won’t work,” “we’ve never done it this way,” “the customer won’t like it,” or, “if this is such a great idea, why hasn’t it been done before?” Immediately, a dysfunctional pattern ensues. Defensiveness sets in and the meeting’s participants will resist making any more suggestions and will fail to explore those ideas that were previously made. (One of the key principles of “divergent thinking” for idea-generation is to defer judgment. Neuroscience has suggested that the human prefrontal cortex—the self-monitoring element of the brain—is less active when we’re most creative.)

Creative thinkers ask open-ended, accommodating, and exploratory lead-in questions such as,

  • “I wonder if/why/whether … “
  • “Perhaps we could … “
  • “That would work if/when … “
  • “In what ways can we … .” This favorite of mine was introduced by Edward de Bono, the lateral thinking pioneer and creator of the “Six Thinking Hats” method for group creativity. De Bono called this lead-in question the ‘IWW.’

Instead of declaring “we could never do this,” ask “IWW (in what ways) may people start to do this?” In practical terms, this rephrasing may seem a small thing, but it embodies a leap in unhindered, open-minded thinking. The former seems a categorical rejection; but the latter invites an exploration of possibilities and signals the beginning of the search for solutions to constraints.

Idea for Impact: The ability to pose meaningful—and often deceptively simple questions is the hallmark of creativity

Good Questions Encourage Creative Thinking Often, what leads a creative person to get fresh insight is the quality of questions he/she asks. Questions such as “I wonder if …” and “In what ways can we … ” ignite dialogues in your mind that can lead to creative insights and new discoveries.

The prospect for creative thinking expands when you can reframe restraining statements into creative questions. Consider the following examples:

  • Restraining statement: “We can’t possibly do that.”
    Creative question: “If it were possible, how would you do it?”
  • Restraining statement: “It’ll take too long.”
    Creative question: “If it’s time-consuming, how can I make it short?”
  • Restraining statement: “I can’t talk to her.”
    Creative question: “If you could talk to her, what would you say?”
  • Restraining statement: “I’m too busy to do this.”
    Creative question: “In what ways can we free up some time for you?”

During brainstorming, asking questions in a way that opens participants’ minds to newer possibilities can have a transformative shift in the creative atmosphere. When participants suspend their judgments, everyone in the brainstorming session will feel comfortable enough to explore creative solutions to constraints.

Learn to Manage Your Negative Emotions and Yourself

Negative emotions not only take their toll on our mind, body, and spirit, but also hinder your liberation from suffering, according to the Buddhist way of life.

People who lack the capacity to withstand psychological distresses such as anger, fear, frustration, and sadness are at a marked disadvantage in life. When faced with life’s unceasing challenges, they respond with greater emotional distress. Worse yet, rather than deal with the challenge at hand wisely, they engage in destructive behaviors, often with verbal and physical aggression toward themselves and others.

Swami Chinmayananda Saraswati on resilience and equanimity

There’s great strength in learning to divorce yourself from negative emotions

People with lower tolerance for distress usually spin their wheels and find as many escapes—including substance abuse and binging—as their troubled minds can conjure up. Instead of allowing themselves a modest amount of grieving, rebounding quickly, and moving on with their lives, they feel victimized. They avoid people and situations that may provoke frustration, discomfort, embarrassment, and uncertainty. In due course, their mind, body, and spirit start to atrophy.

Speaking of the need to expand the human capacity of resilience and equanimity and learn from adversity to achieve success, the renowned Hindu spiritual teacher Swami Chinmayananda Saraswati (1916–93) once said, “The secret of success behind all men of achievement, lies in the faculty of applying their intellect in all their activities, without being mislead by any surging emotions or feelings. The secret of success in life lies in keeping the head above the storms of the heart.”

Having a propensity to react negatively will hurt your career and personal life

When the celebrated American tennis player Andre Agassi (who was infamous for his temperaments) was asked in a Harvard Business Review interview if he learned to manage his emotions when he played, Agassi replied,

I’ve seen people use emotion, positive or negative, as a tool, and it works for them. But typically, the more you can remove emotion, the more efficient you’ll be. You can be an inch from winning but still miles away if you allow emotion to interfere with the last step. So you have to accept the weather, heat, rain, stops and starts, the line calls, whatever your opponent is giving you, however tired or injured you are. There are so many things that can distract you from taking care of business. The only thing you can control is your engagement.

Equanimity is thus at the center of Buddhist practice

When you learn to better understand, tolerate, and harness negative emotions, you become empowered.

Learn to manage your negative emotions and yourself. From Buddhist perspective, learn to thoughtfully attend to your negative emotions with an emphasis on neither suppressing them nor acting them out. According to verse 4.34 in Udāna, eighty stories that contain eighty utterances of the Buddha,

Whose mind is like rock, steady, unmoved,
dispassionate for things that spark passion,
unangered by things that spark anger:
When one’s mind is developed like this,
from where can there come suffering & stress?

Equanimity is thus at the center of Buddhist practice, which prescribes many forms of disciplined practices to overcoming the harmful effects of destructive emotions. According to the Therīgāthā (“verses of the female elders”,) a set of principles composed by senior nuns during the lifetime of the Buddha,

If your mind becomes firm like a rock
And no longer shakes
In a world where everything is shaking,
Your mind will be your greatest friend
And suffering will not come your way.

Idea for Impact: Negative emotions and the destructive behaviors they breed are essentially always wrong—they are psychological errors you’ll do well to eliminate in yourself.

Wealth and Status Are False Gods

Wealth and Status Are False GodsWhile it’s certainly one thing to know that money is a way to fulfill your requirements in life, it’s quite another when money becomes your primary motivation and measure of success, or when you come to equate happiness or worthiness with your wealth.

While there nothing characteristically wrong with material wealth or its pursuit, it’s easy to expect too much from money.

The New Testament (1 Timothy 6:10) reminds you to be aware of the difference between need and greed, “love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Money can push you to take on or keep you in unhealthy relationships and unsatisfying careers. It can lead you to neglect your social life and undervalue the importance of relationships. Besides, money can adulterate your soul, germinate dishonorable conduct, and make you unworthy regardless of the wealth you accumulate.

Status Is the Enemy of Passion

Prestige, cachet, status, wealth, and approval as dominant extrinsic motivators are appropriate and can be life-affirming in the short term, but they eventually confuse and undermine you from the things that do offer deeper rewards for a life well led. The British-American venture capitalist and essayist Paul Graham wrote in his stimulating 2006 article “How to Do What You Love” discussed the hollowness of pursuing “prestige”:

What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn’t worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world.

….

Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.

….

Prestige is just fossilized inspiration. If you do anything well enough, you’ll make it prestigious. Plenty of things we now consider prestigious were anything but at first. Jazz comes to mind—though almost any established art form would do. So just do what you like, and let prestige take care of itself.

Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.

Materialism is Shallow

Modern society is remarkably driven by statusAs a modern society, we are remarkably driven by status—because we regard ourselves more worthy of others’ respect if we possess a home in a status neighborhood, a vacation property, brand-name or even designer-label clothes, luxury watches, expensive jewelry, and so on. But the pursuit of a materialistic lifestyle comes at a high cost.

Writing about the shallowness of materialism, the Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias wrote in Recapture the Wonder (2003),

In a culture where the possibility of wealth and the acquisition of things is so defining of success, we end up pursuing things that, even if we are successful, can never deliver what we envisioned they would. The reason riches become such a snare is because we end up evaluating life in mercenary terms and being seen by others in such terms, and life is just not so.

Money can buy lots of things that make us feel good and important. However, people preoccupied with money and status are never satisfied. Often, their desires and debts grow faster than their means. The more they have, the more they think they need. Discouraging gluttony and lavish spending habits, the great Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote (per Dialogues and Essays,)

Shun luxury, shun good fortune that makes men weak and causes their minds to grow sodden, and, unless something happens to remind them of their human lot, they waste away, lulled to sleep, as it were, in a drunkenness that has no end…. Although all things in excess bring harm, the greatest danger comes from excessive good fortune: it stirs the brain, invites the mind to entertain idle fancies, and shrouds in thick fog the distinction between falsehood and truth.

Idea for Impact: You are rich if you think you have enough

Put the value of money and the pursuit of wealth in perspectivePut the value of money and the pursuit of wealth in perspective. Feel rich and have a soft spot for certain indulgences. But, don’t get trapped in the spectacle of riches.

Being rich and seeking status can cost a fortune—the things that you may have to do to flaunt your wealth can cost almost as much as your wealth itself. As the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said, “The money you have can give you freedom, but the money you pursue enslaves you.”