5 Perspectives to Get Us Unstuck

We’re about to start a new year. It’s time to think about new goals, new activities, and new habits. The trouble is, we often end up stuck in the same old ways of doing things. We start something new, and resistance sets in. It’s like we’re walking through deep mud and trying to climb up a steep bank. It seems like everything around us wants to keep us in the same old ruts.

The ancient philosophers of the Western world dealt with big abstract ideas, but they also thought through these common problems. I have found that they offer some ways to help us think differently about common problems that offer new perspectives. They are alternative perspectives on common problems that can help get us unstuck.

1. Change of habits takes time. Aristotle says “. . . men acquire many qualities neither by nature nor by teaching but by habituation, bad qualities if they are habituated to the bad, good if the good” (Eudemian Ethics, 1.1).

My comment: we look at many things we can’t do and think that we cannot do them because we cannot do them now. Aristotle observes that many things involve work over time, habituation. So, it would be better when looking at most things we cannot do to not say, “I cannot do that,” but rather to say, “I cannot do that today.” We can acquire new skills. They just take work over time.

2. How you think will determine how you live. “Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind, for the soul is dyed by the thoughts” (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.16).

My comment: the way that we think about things has a strong effect on how we feel about them. However, we can think differently about things and so feel differently about them. For example, we may look at mistakes as a disaster, and so we get angry at ourselves. However, we can think differently. We can accept that mistakes are a normal part of the human learning process. This makes it easier to keep going. That’s what these alternative ways of thinking are all about. If our thoughts shape the character of the soul, we can change our thoughts and consequently the character of our soul. Continue reading “5 Perspectives to Get Us Unstuck”

The World Is “Full of Friends”: How to Become More Sociable

Last January, I stayed by myself for most of the month at a condo in Myrtle Beach. It was part of my sabbatical. It was a great time, but, with my family back in Tennessee, it could be lonely.

So, what do we do when we find ourselves without the people who are close to us? They may be travelling. They may have moved. They may have died. How do we process this absence?

According to the ancient philosopher Seneca, philosophy has some resources. He says, “The first thing which philosophy undertakes to give is fellow feeling with all men; in other words, sympathy and sociability” (V, 7). Philosophy trains us to be sociable.

How does philosophy teach us to be more sociable? It teaches us that humans are social beings. This means that humans are made to interact together. So, whenever we meet one, we meet with a person who has been designed to interact with us. Continue reading “The World Is “Full of Friends”: How to Become More Sociable”

Like Flowers Unfolding Before Him

Henry Van Dyke’s beautiful hymn, “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” begins:

Joyful, joyful, we adore You,
God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before You,
Op’ning to the sun above.

This hymn describes the joy that a person can experience who lifts their hearts up to praise God moment by moment and day by day.

The ancient call of the Psalms rings out calling all nations to join in this joyful praise.

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
extol him, all you peoples.
For great is his love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.

Praise the Lord.

The Apostle Paul used this Psalm to describe the universal mission of the church to call all peoples to praise their Creator. In doing so, he immediately connected it with joy, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him . . .” (Romans 15:13). Continue reading “Like Flowers Unfolding Before Him”