He is happy whose circumstances suit his temper; but he is more excellent who can suit his temper to any circumstances.
—David Hume (Oil on canvas by Allan Ramsay, 1766; in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.)
…We’ve all been there. Actually, some of us are forced to live most of our lives there. Stuck in a time or place where the circumstances don’t suit our temper. Maybe we are in a job we don’t like, working with people we aren’t like. Perhaps we are at a social function we were forced into, and don’t share the values or characteristics of the people surrounding us. We may be watching a “popular” television show and tell ourselves, “I have nothing in common with the viewers who actually find this to be entertainment.”
I think of the country I grew up in, and I look around today and see a totally different world. A stranger in a strange land, in the words of Robert Heinlein’s classic novel. But we can’t create the world surrounding us, so we appear to be at its mercy. Though some wealthy enough (a few Hollywood actors come to mind) may be able to insulate themselves from opposing viewpoints and be lauded for it by sycophantic fans, are they growing spiritually, or are they inhibiting their growth by living in a bubble?
No, the answer is not to ruminate about days gone by or to always search for circumstances which suit our temper. That is not what we are doing here. The answer lies in roaming around and exploring the world which surrounds us. With a stoic philosophy, we should welcome circumstances which previously made us uncomfortable. Instead of lamenting those who oppose our viewpoint, we should study how and why they came to believe and act the way they do.
After a real or perceived defeat at the hands of those who do not share our viewpoint, we have a choice. We can become bitter and rigid (does anyone come to mind?), or we can accept what has happened and move forward; not compromising our own belief system, but vowing to grow from the experience. One path is simple and rote, while the other requires effort and self discipline. Despite our surface feelings, we know which path will make us “more excellent.”