How to Develop a Rational Perspective on Life
And avoid being swayed by your emotions and judgements.
Depression and bipolar disorder was a way of life for me. When I wasn’t feeling too much, it was as if I wasn’t feeling anything, and the world around me felt grey.
Existing was a struggle, yet somehow I managed to keep a smile on my face. Not that it mattered. I wasn’t thriving, I was surviving. Soon, that began to change.
I remember the day I first read Marcus’s words. Aurelius was on the frontlines. He was a ruler and an emperor. We are all rulers of our lives and emperors of our sphere of influence. To become proficient rulers we have to learn to see things as they are and interact with people in a rational, way.
‘First thing every morning tell yourself: today I am going to meet a busybody, an ingrate, a bully, a liar, a schemer, and a boor. Ignorance of good and evil has made them what they are. But I know that the good is by nature beautiful and the bad ugly.
I know that these wrong-doers are by nature my brothers, not by blood or breeding, but by being similarly endowed with reason and sharing in the divine.’ — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
The View From Above: A Lesson in Perspective
One of the first things you should do in your acquisition of rationality is to put your ego aside and see things from a birds-eye view. We often find ourselves overwhelmed with struggles and petty disputes.
Maybe someone cuts us off in traffic, or our boss yells at us. Maybe we have to deal with politics in the workplace, or arguments with our spouse. It’s times like this that we have to look at things above the battlefield.
In his Meditations, Marcus tells us:
“Fly with the stars in their courses, and swim among the ever-changing elements in the fluid transmutations…Anyone who aspires to make observations about mankind should look upon the human scene as from some lofty heights…Look in the past with its endless succession of empires and you see the future. Study man for 40 years or 10,000. What else do you expect to see?”
You aren’t the first person to experience what you’re going through and you won’t be the last. Imagine yourself floating above the earth. Imagine the kingdoms that have risen and fell, the people that have been birthed and turned to dust. They dealt with the same problems as you and many more wills to come.
Consider that people are simply specks of dust. What will you do in the short time allotted to you? Continue to whine about your circumstance, or become spurred onto action?
The exercise that many Stoics call ‘The View From Above’(the preceding exercise) should help you to gain perspective. It’ll provide you with peace and compassion for the fleeting human condition and a wider perspective of your current circumstances.
How To Perceive the People Around You Clearly
“When choosing people to work and associate with, do not be mesmerized by their reputation or taken in by the surface image they try to project. Instead, train yourself to look deep within them and see their character. People’s character is formed in their earliest years and by their daily habits.
It is what compels them to repeat certain actions in their lives and fall into negative patterns. Look closely at such patterns and remember that people never do something just once. They will inevitably repeat their behavior. Gauge the relative strength of their character by how well they handle adversity, their ability to adapt and work with other people, their patience and ability to learn.
Always gravitate toward those who display signs of strength, and avoid the many toxic types out there. Know thoroughly your own character so you can break your compulsive patterns and take control of your destiny.”
Greene, Robert. The Laws of Human Nature (p. 102). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Seeing things from a bird’s eye view isn’t going to automatically make your problems go away. It brings you peace but it doesn’t change the character of the people around you. As humans, we’re meant to dive into the world headfirst, ready for action and if need be, ready for war.
I’ve found that it's easy to demonize/idolize people. Our view of life is like peering through a dirty window trying to get a clear view to the other side.
Because of this ‘dirty window’ perspective, we fail to truly see others. The key is seeing things from a balanced perspective. You have to know who to deal with and who to leave alone to maintain your peace of mind.
In his book ‘The Laws of Human Nature’, Robert Greene defines character as:
‘Something that is so deeply ingrained or stamped within us that it compels us to act in certain ways, beyond our awareness and control.’
According to Greene, character is the product of nature and nurture and largely follows us wherever we go in life. It has to be consciously strengthened, something that many people aren’t self-aware enough to do.
Consider the pros and cons of each person in your life. This will become your ‘map’ to that person's character. Do they crumble under pressure? Are they forgetful? Do they have a vicious temper?
These are all important traits that will point toward how you’ll navigate this person in the future. Make a list if you have to. If the bad outweighs the good, or if their negative traits outweigh your values, spend as much time away from that person as possible.
Alternately, detach as much as you can in your interactions with them. It that’s not possible, use your ‘map’ to learn how to interact with them on a productive level.
The egomaniac at work might need his ego stroked in order to get an important deal through. You might have to learn how to calm your spouse in an argument when they can’t seem to calm themselves.
Unfortunately, we can’t walk away from everyone, so learning how to deal with them shrewdly is a crucial step to our maintaining our wellbeing.
When you do feel emotions toward people-which you will-don’t resist them. Allow them to flow through you and diminish. Breathe.
Examine your inner self to its roots. Ask yourself, “Why do I feel this way about this situation or person?” Each interaction and circumstance carries with it the opportunity to make you a better person.
By taking a step back like this, you’ll become proactive and not reactive. You’ll be able to determine how you want to act rather than being thrown this way and that by the people around you.
Depression, Meditation and Facing the Demons Within
“Never mind what I have been taught. Forget about theories and prejudices and stereotypes. I want to understand the…
Our lives are governed by our perception. While our thought patterns are based on our experiences, they aren’t set in stone.
Proper rational perspective is the key to a happy life and lasting peace. Struggling against my depression is the bravest thing I could have done and the most rewarding. It showed me that it is possible to remake yourself in your image.
If I can gradually diminish my negative thought processes, then I believe in the potential within you to do the same. Take what I’ve said, go out and master yourself and the world around you.