While common logic says that a problem shared is a problem halved, it is important to remember that helping someone and experiencing their burdens yourself are very different. Although sharing one’s worries is an essential part of human interaction and connection, it begs the question: at what point does empathy begin to create problems, rather than facilitate solutions? Today, we focus on a key inhibitor of freedom: letting other people’s problems become your own.
Why do the children of divorced parents so often end up blaming themselves for the end of a marriage? This is a classic example of what seems to be an intrinsic human trait. Much like children who do not understand that certain things are entirely out of their control, we prefer to take the blame in many situations. Perhaps this is because blaming ourselves provides us with more security than realizing that, often times, our actions do not matter. This is why we feel stressed when a friend is anxious, experience sadness when a partner is upset, or reflect anger on those who are infuriated. We react this way because we are afraid of being powerless in situations that we wish we could change – this restricts our personal freedom.
So how do you prevent family stress from becoming your stress or a friend’s substance abuse problem from becoming your constant worry? A particular piece of Stoic philosophy, dubbed The Triage of Control, as described in William B. Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, may help establish a framework.
“Wanting things that are not up to us will disrupt our tranquility, even if we end up getting them.” – William B. Irvine
If you can’t control something, why worry about it? Yet, we do this all the time. Take a moment to think about every time you have stressed over a situation that had nothing to do with you. You may be surprised. As we internalize this quote, it is crucial to realize that even if we end up getting what we want, it will still cost us greatly.
The Actionable Steps
How to apply The Triage of Control…
- In situations where I have complete control: I will provide complete effort.
- In situations where I have partial control: I will provide some effort.
- In situations where I have no control: I will provide no effort.
In doing so, we commit to internalizing our goals, only in situations where we have some control. We do not, as humans and Freedom Seekers, have the resources necessary to shoulder unnecessary burdens. The fact of the matter is, while hand-holding a friend through struggle is valiant, it will not help them achieve sustainable results, until something occurs within them – they need to make a decision to improve their own situation. It is thus crucial that we do not let other people’s problems become our own, for this is a restriction to personal freedom in its highest form.
To our readers,
We hope you enjoyed our first article. We are excited to hear about your experiences applying The Triage of Control.
Leo and Yasna