Wednesday, September 25, 2013
The Art of Resignation
Sitting as I am here in Croatia, and being a contemplative sort, I couldn't help but let my mind wander to things that I have heard and things that I have learned.
Today, in my Political Theory class, we discussed two of the major "ideologies" of the modern world: Liberalism and Conservatism. Now, as most of you might guess, I am somewhat annoyed by some peoples' assertion that conservatism is an ideology for I believe, as Russell Kirk did, that conservatism is not an ideology at all, but rather the negation thereof, it being rather a collection of sentiments and an outlook on life rather than a body of abstract principles. One of the features of conservatism that the professor outlined is the idea of human imperfection. Indeed, as he explained it, I couldn't help but agree with him, as I did with Kirk, that we humans are fallen beings, corrupt, greedy, and often violent. Any look at history and the current state of world affairs will vindicate this belief. However, I couldn't help but feel that many, perhaps most, people would still like to think that through our own efforts, through the application of our reason and our good intentions, we might rise above this imperfection. Pondering this, and listening a trance/chillstep song, I could not help but be reminded of the opinion of a far wiser man than I on what I will call "the art of resignation."
Epictetus was one of the preeminent Stoic philosophers of antiquity, standing on equal footing with his fellow Stoics Zeno, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius as well as the proto-Stoic Cicero in his wisdom and prescience. It was Epictetus who, advising his students on how to find a source of happiness in this fallen world,
"There is only one road to happiness and that is to cease worrying about those things that are beyond the power of our will to control."
Now, this is a restating of elements of two of his quotes into one, but the meaning and the underlying principle are the same: if man is to find a semblance of happiness in this world, he must first gain an understanding of what aspects of his existence he can control through the application of his will and understand what aspects of life he cannot control, whether they be elements of himself or stark reality.
I am sure that many will take issue with this sentiment: in no uncertain terms, it means, for many, a kind of capitulation to whatever Fate throws at you. There is no escaping it entirely (whatever "it" might be). In my case and for the purposes of this post the case presented in class is that man cannot escape his imperfection, as it is something more than genetic and less than metaphysical. I would assert, however, that it is not really a "capitulation" to Fate, but rather a kind of resignation, a sentiment based on realism and necessary reflection on the state of the world we view.
To be resigned to something is, I believe, not something that is inherently negative. Often, when we find ourselves resigned to whatever situation we find ourselves in, we find a release, a burden lifted. The situation thus becomes what we make of it, granting us more freedom than we would have otherwise if we simple rejected the reality and turned our face from it. When we reject reality, it often becomes a consuming aspect in that we are forced to constantly run into it. But if we accept it for what it is, then we are "within," and thus have the ability to adapt and adjust. Taking a Christian perspective, when we acknowledge our fallen state and seek repentance, we resign ourselves to the truth that we are less than we like to think we are and that we are, by our very nature, less than we ought to be (and were at one point). When this happens, when we accept the reality of that which we cannot control (our sin and our need for redemption), we are, in effect, granted a measure of control over the remainder of our Self. This stems from the freedom found in Christ's mercy and the control over the state of our souls that He grants us. We thus have the freedom in Knowing: we are fallen, but have the freedom to choose redemption and a life truly Good. But all this hinges on the resignation to the Reality of our Self and, by extension, the Reality of the world we inhabit and have dominion over.
Going further, Kirk asserts in his "Ten Conservative Principles" that only when the inner order of the Soul is given harmony and structure will the outer order, the Commonwealth or the World, be ordered. This order will not be perfect, as that would require the perfect order found only in perfect humans. Seeing as humans are far from perfect, in fact fallen, we can only resign ourselves to making a tolerable order of the world and to making our inner Self, our Souls, as ordered as possible in our state. In this we are granted far more freedom than we realize, as our eyes are opened to the reality. Yes, much of what we see will make us shudder. But also we will see things with new clarity, and open our imaginations and self to the wonder and beautiful mystery of Creation, not to mention the myriad of ways that we can attempt to improve not only our own lot in this temporal existence but also be awakened to the needs and care of our fellow man. This is part of why I pity men who think they know everything and proclaim themselves to be "experts:" In doing so, they shut themselves off from this new world, unable and unwilling to see the greater picture of existence that is wider than they could have imagined. Again, to have new eyes is to first resign ourselves to the fact that we only see a small picture of the eternal tapestry of Creation. This is not to say that there are not aspects of life that we should not strive to change (Lord knows there is much of those in life) but these are granted fuller vision when we strive to accept what we can't change and discern them from those we can.
And thus, in the words of Blackmill's "Let It Be," I resign myself to the Reality of Existence, and that I will "Let it come and let it be," as I cannot change the sad facts, but I can control my destiny in the freedom I find in resignation to the need for salvation. I end with this thought that stems from the resignation:
"There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind." -C.S. Lewis