Control your pathos and live a calmer life

Control your pathos and live a calmer life.

Tuesday morning. I am riding the U9 line with the pram to Tiergarten to meet a friend with her child and enjoy the unexpectedly sunny day in Berlin. Across me, diagonally, an old lady is standing. I haven’t noticed her earlier. A loud voice deriving from somewhere close to her drew my attention to her shape, but I could not detect its exact origin. Soon enough, I noticed the source of the gradually louder noise; a young man sitting next to the old lady was outraged that she was not wearing a mask according to the regulations against the covid virus. The man loomed up right in front of the lady, yelling at her and clearly to physically hurt her. 

Everyone was looking, nobody did anything. I caught myself looking around, waiting for someone to intervene, to react. Silence. Suddenly, without leaving my seat, I pointed my finger at this man, and with a stern voice, I ordered him to stop, sit down right away and quit behaving like that. I repeated the command. The young man was startled that someone dared to tell him off; he sat down immediately, mumbling something, and the lady thanked me for stepping in. My heart was panting; my mind struggled to conceive that this was a real setting and not a movie scene.

Nobody batted an eyelid. Just blinking eyes going around minding their own business. I was appalled. Are people so much used to witnessing such outbreaks?

During a Sunday walk in the forest with our dog, in an area where dogs are allowed to run and play freely, my husband was attacked and threatened by a man who decided that our dog was not a suitable playdate to his dog.

During the 2022 Oskar’s live transmission, the acclaimed actor Will Smith got up on the stage and slapped the presenter, who made an unfortunate and inappropriate joke about the actor’s wife. Will Smith felt the urge to defend his wife’s honour by physically attacking the presenter in front of millions of viewers. I guess violence is the answer. Violence is the way to respond when one disapproves of one’s comment.

Pathos is the Greek term for suffering or something that one undergoes or something that happens to one. In Stoicism, pathos indicates the complaints of the soul. In his work, The Moral Nicomaheums, Aristotle encompasses, amongst other pathos, fear, anger, envy and hate. Love is also pathos. According to the great Greek philosopher, pathos is much needed in our life, but one should learn how to tame and control them. Let us not forget that the Trojan war resulted from the untamed pathos of Paris for the beautiful Helen. 

I have not yet managed to figure out what makes people succumb to their pathos. Until recently, I used to apportion such outbreaks solely to mental illness, “The poor man obviously suffers from some mental illness, just let it go”. It has been challenging for me to assign such behaviours to other causes; I can’t believe a sane person would choose violence over reasoning. My mind struggles to comprehend that people can so quickly lose their calm over situations that can be sorted out differently, without yelling and threatening.

Indeed, there is a constantly increasing number of people experiencing some form of mental illness among us. However, I have started to believe that mental illness cannot always be the primary source of these outrageous, unacceptable and blameable demeanours. 

Sure enough, this prolonged pandemic has been hard and complex for all of us, to some probably more than others, mainly due to the disturbance of daily life. All of us had to change our routines and adjust to unfamiliar conditions. Admittedly, for a significant portion of the population, changes can have a severe impact on their psychology, in a way that special provision is required. I will not elaborate on that in this essay. This is a huge topic for another time.

Yes, the living cost has dramatically increased, and yes, there is a horrific war in a neighbour European country, amongst other wars co-occurring in the Middle East or Africa. Not to mention the environmental crisis we are in. I agree that it feels like we live in dark times, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Nonetheless, life has never been peach perfect, and history is certainly full of examples proving that, in several cases, our ancestors had it worse. In fact, people amongst us still have it worse. Not only citizens of the underdeveloped world but also people living in the so-called developed countries.

Violence is not the solution. It has never been, nor it will ever be. It is easy and effortless to succumb to our negative emotions and pathos and project them on other people or situations. It is easier to live in anger and give in to psychological suffering, negative thoughts, to disappointment. It somehow seems easier to be grumpy or angry, to blame others for our sadness or lack of satisfaction, fulfilment and contentment in our life. To blame others for our misfortunes. This dark vortex can so quickly suck us in. 

Because the opposite requires hard work not only to achieve but to maintain. It takes great and continuous efforts to pacify and rule over our passions, or even harder to learn when there is the right time and place for them. Peace of mind, which I consider more important than happiness, is a state that asks for our commitment whilst it demands ceaseless attempts to uphold. Serenity does not miraculously happen. It takes considerable mental and physical work to build resilience that will eliminate our desire to cause harm to others. Not suppress but eliminate.

Nowadays, we have easy access to means that can help us govern our fragile psychology and become more mindful, be it specialists, self-help books, free online programs and blogs, yoga, meditation via YouTube, retreats etc. There are tools at our disposal to prevent us from returning to our primitive instincts for survival. Because, at the end of the day, it is all about finding the best way to survive this wondrous journey with the least possible collateral damage. This is when we can really feel free to embrace and enjoy life.

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