The more we value things
outside our control,
the less control we have.
What is wisdom? Think of a wide man… your personal ideal, a beacon of humanity. Someone like Socrates, Confucius, the Buddha… Now imagine that person alive today. Your image of them would be completely ruined if they were constantly checking the news on their smartphone. News cannot answer the Big Questions…
A cornerstone of any sensible life philosophy is as follows: there are things you can control and there are things you can’t control, and it’s idiotic to trouble yourself about things you can’t control. The Stoics, a very practical school of philosophy in Ancient Greece and Rome, symbolised their belief system with the image of an archer. An archer can control what now he chooses, which arrow he selects from his quiver, how far back he draws the bow and how still he holds it. But from the moment he lets the arrow fly, it’s beyond his control. A gust of wind may knock the arrow off course. Or it may break mid-flight. Or something might get between the flying arrow and its target. Or the target may move.
Ninety-nine point nine per cent of all world events are outside your control. You have no influence on what’s happening in the world, where and how. It’s much more sensible to focus your energies on things you can control. Granted, this will be a much smaller world this the planet on the whole. But that’s just the way it is. You can influence what happens in your life, your family, your neighbourhood, your city, your job, but the rest you simply have to accept.
The philosopher Epictetus offered another important argument to thousand years ago: ‘You become what you give your attention to… If you yourself don’t choose what thoughts and images you expose yourself to, someone else will.’ If you consume the news, you become another person, another character — a worse one than if you filled your mind with wise content. To achieve wisdom, we should choose ‘a limited number of master thinkers and digest their works,’ suggested the philosopher Seneca (also two thousand years ago). Consuming the news is like a frantic, never-ending journey. ‘When a person spends all his time in foreign travel,’ noted Seneca, ‘he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends.’
Stop Reading the News: A Manifesto for a Happier, Calmer and Wiser Life
By Rolf Dobelli
Translated by Caroline Waight