Sunday night Stoic: Reality


“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”

The world is too much with us. Our own lives are enough to live. But now we’ve got the worries of the whole world to ponder every day streaming through our devices and pinging our brains with a ceaseless flow of bad news and heartbreaking stories.

I don’t think the world is particularly more woeful now or humans more horrid. In fact, compared to every other generation of our species, we probably are living in the safest, most peaceful time ever.

Steven Pinker makes just that case in his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature. Humans living today are less likely to suffer violent deaths or experience any kind of physical violence than in any century in human history.

One of my favorite podcasts is Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. A consistent theme throughout every historical era he describes is how brutally violent people have been to each other. Atrocities we see in the news today wouldn’t seem shocking or out of place to people a millennia or two ago. They saw worse and lived with much more reason to be afraid.

People behaving badly has been the rule rather than the exception. Humans are the worst, right?

But we’re getting better. And we are more troubled than we ought to be.

I don’t watch television news. I scan the headlines each morning, and I can’t help noticing the latest trending topics in social media.

But I don’t spend much time exploring the details of current events. Why should I? Why fuel irrational fears about things that are unlikely to ever happen to me.

Our perception of reality is in most cases more fearful than is warranted. What we imagine is way worse than what we are likely to experience.

If you’re feeling like the world’s got you down, take a mental vacation. Tune out the constant blast of news that feeds your fear. 

Focus your attention on what matters most to you. Use your imagination instead to make the best of whatever is in your control.