Lance Scranton: Change begins with ourselves
January 30, 2018
Western philosophy offers some keen insights into the anger we are experiencing in our culture these days. A unit on the beliefs of Aristotle, Socrates, Epicurus and Seneca would go a long way to helping reduce the irrational behavior we see going on in our news and political circles. Seniors in high school study these four memorable philosophers and come away knowing, at least intellectually, that a correlation exists between anger and a poorly functioning society.
To fix it, the Greeks believed that all happiness began with one thing: ourselves. The constant virtue signaling and projection that disguises itself as morality these days would, in the minds of the great thinkers, be useless.
Happiness was such an important part of our well being that the founding fathers enshrined it in The Declaration of Independence as one of three inalienable rights, which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The pursuit of happiness is impossible without liberty, which is fundamentally essential as part of our lives in a republic. But, the pursuit of happiness, as a fundamental right, ensures not the product, but the process, and this is where the philosophers made the most sense. Each brilliant thinker understood inherently that personal responsibility was critical in a society. Each used varying degrees of philosophical rhetoric to drive home the point that asking questions, realizing we can't control everything, having genuine friends, and living an analyzed life would lead to one very important conclusion: We can't change the world by constantly being its victim.
We can, however, make a decision in our lives to try to fix ourselves without over-analyzing the simplistic intention to just get up every day and do the right thing for the right reasons to the right people at the right time. It takes no deep understanding of philosophy to live a virtuous life; Aristotle believed it a natural part of our desire to do that which we were designed for as human beings.
The great ones knew that we can't change other people — we can only change ourselves — and the philosophers understood that blaming others for our problems is useless, because we don't learn, won't grow and will never mature. They lived in much more dangerous times and fully realized that life is full of frustrations and disappointments. But, they viewed this as part of the noble nature of living, which required courage to accept that we can't fix the world, but we can work on ourselves, which will make the world a much better place.
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Lance Scranton is a teacher and coach at Moffat County High School.