Lifelong learning

Look around you and the symptoms of a society in decay are everywhere. Parliament has become a mockery of its former self. It’s no longer a place where ideas are debated, it’s a schoolyard where epithets are thrown. Traffic has become an angry nightmare. On a downtown Toronto street this week I watched as one car chased another, horn constantly honking, around a corner and down the next street as if the driver was avenging some sin, real or imagined.
Said a woman on the sidewalk beside me; “That’s my definition of a moron.” I agreed but my heart went out to the driver of the first car who must have been panic stricken. A few days earlier, I saw a bicyclist hammering his fist on the window of a taxi and hollering at the occupants about who-knows-what. Good Samaritans are few and far between.
Time was when politicians made friends across party lines. When Darcy McKeough was Treasurer of Ontario, he and NDP leader Stephen Lewis would debate fiercely in the Legislature but then go out and have dinner together. Traffic seemed much calmer. You could count on no one running a red light as they turned in front of you. Now, it’s wise to wait a few extra seconds after your own light goes green.
To be sure, as I get older, I sometimes yearn for the good old days, but there seems to be more divisive goings-on than can simply be explained by my being out of time and place. Fortunately, there are many thinkers who offer comfort and guidance. I just recently read Hans Selye’s memoir, “The Stress of my Life,” in which the celebrated Montreal doctor recounts his discovery of stress as the cause of most personal problems. His advice is simple and can be reduced to one instructive sentence: “What matters is not what happens to you but the way you take it.”
By chance I also just read “Marcus Aurelius the Stoic Emperor,” by Donald J. Robertson. In the past I was drawn to stoicism as a possible way of life and I now regard myself as a total convert. Here’s my newfound philosophy in a nutshell: Live in the moment. Be indifferent to what others think of you. Be self-aware. Assume responsibility for your own happiness. Don’t wish for what you don’t have. Seek virtue and tranquility. Live each day as if it will be your last. Because it might be.

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