what we can control

I’ve always thought about environmentalism as simply making “greener” personal choices – recycling, turning the lights off when I leave the room, eating less red meat, etc…

But lately, these personal choices have been feeling insignificant in light of everything happening in the headlines. That’s because a changing climate is quite literally a global problem. We didn’t cause it on our own and we can’t solve it on our own, but solve it we must.

To lend our-tiny-little-insignificant-selves some sanity in this quest, I think we should borrow our approach from Stoic wise guy Epictetus and focus only on what is within our control.

Some things are up to us and some things are not up to us.

– Epictetus

Our most important choice in life, according to Stoic thinker Epictetus, is whether to concern ourselves with things external to us or things internal. His trichotomy of control, which I pulled from the great book The Guide to the Good Life, involves separating things into three categories:

  • Within our complete control: Values, Belief Systems, Character, Adherence to Virtue, Goals, Self-Control, Emotions. The pursuit of these things brings tranquility.
  • Partially within our control: Let’s use the example of a soccer game to illustrate this one. You can play your best game, but it is not completely up to you whether you win. What can you control? You can control your work ethic, your practice regimen, your nutrition. However, many external factors play into the final result. In such situations, we’re best internalizing our goals.
  • Not within our control: Others’ opinions, others’ actions, luck. Stoics try to avoid reacting to these things.

In dealing with the massive issue facing our generation and future generations, we should focus on what is within our control. Let’s talk about what’s reasonably within our control in this context.

  • Searching for truth: Learning, thinking, asking questions, looking in the mirror
  • Personal choices that reflect our values: Many solutions are within our control, as referenced above.
  • Advocacy for collective choices that match our values: Many solutions are NOT within our control. We can only spread the word, vote, engage in debate, share newsletters, etc.

We’ll touch on all three of these this week on The Commons.