Premeditatio malorum (or, borrowing trouble)

A Musing:

A lot of things really bad and really good have happened around Chez Moriah the last couple of years. One of the good things is that XX tax deduction has learned how to drive and is getting out and about on her own. She works only a few minutes away, so we got used to her driving to work and back. But she has an internship 20 minutes away from home, all freeway, heavily trafficked, and sometimes very windy. Today was her first day driving it by herself, and I am nervous and scared.

Generally speaking, I tend to “borrow trouble”, as Ma Ingalls would say. I spin up scenarios in my head of all the bad things that could go wrong, and then I ruminate on them. I have tried very hard not to do that, because I found out during the Great Mojo Prepper Panic of 2008 that living that way is soul-crushing. Self-help/inspirational/affirmation memes all warn of doing this. But I do it anyway, just on a smaller scale.

I have a great deal of respect for the stoic philosophers, though, and as I learn more about them, I try to incorporate their thinking into my own. Well, today I learned of “premeditatio malorum” or, to be more specific, borrowing trouble.

On purpose.

Seneca had this to say:

What is quite unlooked for is more crushing in its effect, and unexpectedness adds to the weight of a disaster. This is a reason for ensuring that nothing ever takes us by surprise. We should project our thoughts ahead of us at every turn and have in mind every possible eventuality instead of only the usual course of events… Rehearse them in your mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck. All the terms of our human lot should be before our eyes.

Let me emphasize this:

What is quite unlooked for is more crushing in its effect, and unexpectedness adds to the weight of a disaster.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, being mentally prepared for disaster has its advantages. You know what you should do and in the heat of the moment, you’re not making stupid decisions. On the other hand, that’s kind of a stressful way to live. If I go into a Tuesday (because Tuesdays are always bad) expecting bad things to happen, bad things are going to happen and/or I’m going to look at every wrinkle as A Bad Thing That Happened and if enough of those wrinkles are there, it is going to have been A Bad Day.

Except…yesterday was Tuesday and I took note of all the ways in which my day was easy: all my lights were green, all my lines were short, most of my errands were effortless, I got (good) things I was expecting. The worst thing that happened was that I forgot to tell Arby’s not to put tomatoes on my gyro. I was braced for a bad day because it was Tuesday, but when the day was over with I noticed that everything went my way and I was grateful for that.

I’m contemplating the role of this Stoic concept in my life. It’s something I already do but have been trying to break myself of, but now it’s been approved by philosophers I look up to. Where and how does this fit with my concomitant contemplation of boredom, contentment, happiness, and gratitude?

* * *
For a fictional treatment of Stoicism and one of my favorite novels ever, and one that informs just about everything I write, try Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full.

May all your lights be green and all your lines be short.

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