Managing Distress

Oghenovo Obrimah, PhD
4 min readFeb 6, 2020

I am not a stoic. For me, the way the stoic philosophy typically is spun, it too easily lends itself to fatalism. While I am aware that stoicism does not necessarily preach fatalism, clearly fatalism easily can be predicated on stoic philosophy. In this respect, I have, in fact, encountered many fatalistic interpretations of stoicism that are articulated by it’s adherents.

Regardless of the fact that I am not a stoic, two quotes that resonate with me deeply from within populations of Greek philosophers are proffered by stoics, one by Seneca, the other by Marcus Aurelius. The quote by Seneca goes as follows.

“Philosophy moulds and constructs the soul, guides our conduct, shows us what we should do and what we should leave undone.”

My focus in this post is on the following quote from Marcus Aurelius. The quote reads as follows (verbatim).

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment. Meditations.

The key here, which for me, mediates the tendency for fatalism to be built into stoicism is the qualification that the distress is, in entirety, external to a person, that is, induced in entirety by actions of another.

For illustration, the U.S. Senate just acquitted Donald Trump of charges that led to his impeachment in the House. While some people are overjoyed, some others feel let down, that is, distressed.

The Republicans likely will say that it was the constitution’s specification of only two options — guilty, or not guilty — that necessitated an acquittal. To this, someone who feels let down may respond that, they as yet could have accompanied the acquittal with a ‘statement of censure’ that puts on record their agreement that the President’s actions were less than honorable.

Suppose then that you are, on basis of acquittal of Donald Trump, feeling disgusted with the political machinery of the United States of America. Well, if you are not a Republican or Democratic Senator, the outcome of the trial in the Senate was, in entirety, external to your person, is an outcome over which you did not really have any influence or…

Oghenovo Obrimah, PhD

Educator and Researcher, Believer in Spirituality, Life is serious business, but we all are pilgrims so I write about important stuff with empathy and ethos