Pretentious Meditations – Loosely Applied Stoicism

I decided on a topic for this post a week ago, but couldn’t find the motivation/time/tact required to get it done.

During that week I saw so many examples of applying “thick skin” I could only help but laugh to myself as life itself seemed to mock my procrastination.

Maybe it was a little bit of confirmation bias, but the skill is pervasive!

I seriously try to practice this quality, but constantly catch myself failing to uphold it throughout the years.  Addressing it in a blog post represented an interesting challenge that I couldn’t pass up.

In hindsight I can point to the event that started my mulling over this subject.  The Met Gala.

I am no connoisseur of fashion, but the theme this year “Heavenly Bodies” ended up grabbing my attention.  Namely because of Rihanna (one of the event chairs) and her prodigious garb.

I like to believe I have an intimate knowledge of Catholicism compared to the general population, and my first reaction was that this outfit was rather off-putting.  Yet the internet reaction of outrage over something like a dress (such as one “clearly” colored blue and black) was not happening.  This was puzzling from my incensed perspective, so I had to spend more time investigating before making any lasting judgement.

After a bit of digging, and trying to justify my feeling like the reactionaries I often mock, I found an interesting take.  Cardinal Dolan of the Diocese of New York did not mind the dress, and was addressing it with a lighthearted joke.

At this point I realized I was over-reacting, and needed to be a bit less prone to taking offense.  After-all, it was just a dress.  A dress that was included in an event meant to push the boundaries of fashion while adhering to a theme that was intended to be a flattering nod to the culture I was invested in.

It got me thinking about how often I have reacted negatively due to a gut reaction, false assumptions, and preconceptions of or related to some harmless engagement over something I hold dear.  This sort of thinking leads to gatekeeping, but I want to be welcoming!  If you have something good, the best thing to do is let it spread!

As I always try to do here, this can apply to game design when you consider playtesting.  How do you handle feedback when it isn’t glowing praise?

Having thick skin can create opportunities for communication, collaboration, and empathy that otherwise would be shut down by your own biased experience.  One of my favorite quotes of all time is:

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle


Which leads to the other side of this.  Being able to stand up for what you believe in.  Maybe a bit more “hard headed” than “thick skin,” but in my generous interpretation they are in the same vein.  I’d say they are both qualities held in high regard for those that consider themselves “gentleman.”  Although, I think it silly to consider these qualities gendered…  We can all stand to benefit from prudent application of these traits.

Watch one game of Hockey (GO CAPS!) and you will see countless examples of players taking what they consider a “slight” and swallowing their pride for the sake of the team.  Focusing on their game, and maybe even using that abuse as fuel for their ambition.

But not when the foe crosses the line.

Swing a stick at the keeper, or land a cheap shot in a scuffle, and the flying fists of fury and retribution will be falling on you in earnest.

Later in the week I saw another pertinent example.  My youth soccer team had a tournament with limited substitutions on a hot hot weekend.  We made it to the final, but after going up 3-1 we let the other team tie the game and force penalty kicks.  We couldn’t wrap it up there, and the defeat was hard to stomach.

I saw some of those players had the qualities I am discussing here a bounced back mentally much more easily than those that need to work on mentally “toughening up.”

I am not by any means discrediting the feelings that crushing defeat or missed opportunity bring about.  Those are very real, and can be quite visceral and suffocating.  I find myself falling victim time and time again!  Having a game-plan for whenever you can catch yourself in this viscious cycle is invaluable.

The prescription I apply for myself is borrowed from stoic philosophy:

“Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.” – Seneca

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl

“How does it help…to make troubles heavier by bemoaning them?” – Seneca

“Our life is what our thoughts make it” – Marcus Aurelius

The emotions that offensive actions, hardships, or unfavorable outcomes erupt within me are a part of being human, but how I respond to those emotions defines me.

-James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar

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