The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

You Don’t Have To Be Upset

Terrible things are happening all time. Right now, as you read it, people are suffering in monstrous, awful ways. Many, many people.

That’s how it is. That’s how it has always been, and as long as there is life of the type there is on Earth, that’s the way it will be. Human and many animal bodies are built for pain and suffering, and not only are we often astoundingly cruel to each other, but accident, disease and the infirmities of old age will scourge us till we, perhaps, become homo-deus.

One of the wisest things I ever read was a 90+ year old who met their spouse to be at the gym, when they were both in their 90s, who said, “neither my (spouse) nor I spend one second worrying about anything we can’t control.”

And, if you can control something, there’s no reason to worry about that.

Bad things are happening all the time. But if you get upset about them, you aren’t helping: your being upset doesn’t make the situation better.

What it does do is make you suffer. All you’re doing is making the world worse, for yourself.

This is one of the most important things I’ve ever written, so re-read the above two paragraphs and think about them.

Much of our sympathetic suffering is because we think that we should be upset, or angry, or worried. Having the emotion either feels like something a good person would do (and we want to be good people) or it feels like, in itself, it is taking action.

Or both. Read that last paragraph again.

There are absolutely situations where feeling bad is wise: they are almost all where you are with someone else who is feeling bad, and your sympathetic misery lets them know you care.

But even in such situations, staying miserable is rarely helpful to the other person. Getting in sync with them, then helping lift them out sometimes works and sometimes what they need is just your misery with them.

But when you leave their presence, being miserable doesn’t help them, and it hurts you.

You also don’t need to feel bad to take action. You can do something to help people who are suffering without having to suffer yourself.

The best states to help from are usually compassion or love. Those states are good for you and good for the people  you’re helping.

But first don’t make the world worse by suffering when your suffering doesn’t help.

This is a real disease in our society and it is made worse by 24/7 global coverage of bad shit. There’s always something terrible happening and you can always find something to feel terrible about. Our sympathetic mirroring of others emotions arose when we lived in small bands, it is not adapted to an internet world where we identify with people we’ve never met and never will.

But to break this habit, to stop hurting yourself, you have to internalize the logic that not feeling bad when bad things happen, especially bad things when you’re not there, does not mean you’re a bad person and you need to split the idea of “feeling” from taking action to help. (And, after all, most of the time you aren’t going to do anything, and often you effectively can’t do anything: there’s just too much evil.)

To do this, to break these connection is the ethical and moral action, because hurting yourself is not required in most cases to help others, so all you’re doing is increasing the world’s suffering. As the Buddha supposedly said, “your compassion is not complete if it does not include yourself.”

Please stop hurting yourself needlessly.



Spring Of A Down, Chapters XVI-XVIII


The Trifecta+ Which Will Make The Next 100 Years Hell


  1. Joan

    This is so important! I have given myself permission to disconnect from almost all news and media over the years. I kept a cursory eye on things when my husband and I were living alone in a turbulent place and we might need to notice the winds changing for our safety, but now that we’re closer to family I let other people take care of that. It has been so much better for my peace of mind and being able to notice the trees around me, smell the roses etc.

    Honestly, just in my experience, suffering people want some hope, so rather than suffer with them I am sympathetic and (if I love them) I give them some of my hopeful energy (but don’t let them take any more than you’re willing to give of course). If they’re in bad physical pain then they want to see that you’re there with them and they want to believe they can get themselves out of pain or at least into lesser pain.

  2. Coops

    I stopped watching the news a long time ago for this very reason.

  3. Soredemos

    Uh, than what the fuck is the point of this blog. To write about things going on in the world, but then tell people to just shrug and not worry about any of it?

  4. Ian Welsh

    The point is to be informed, so you can maneuver around big situations.

  5. Willy

    Maybe there are levels of worry which people should be willing to accept?

    For example, if you’re Tucker Carlson, you just read the words on the teleprompter convincingly and then go home to sleep well at night knowing that you couldn’t care less about whatever it was that you just read, or the impacts your reading-acting had weak-minded others.

    If you’re Donald Trump, you worry about how much the next big “victimization” is going to net your bottom line, and you couldn’t care less about whatever happens to any suckers and losers who get swept up by it all.

    If you’re Joe Biden, you worry about how Joe Manchin’s gonna torpedo your next big thing instead of just fucking playing hardball with the guy already.

    If you’re Joe Rogan, you worry about your interview with Mike Tyson, wondering if he’s gonna sense your fear and leap over the table to assault you for being the corporate-compromised weak bitch you’ve become.

    We all have different levels of worry natural for each one of us. Maybe we could each describe how we handle our worries, for purposes of learning?

    I’ll start. I’ll obsess over something I don’t want to do out of an irrational fear that I’ll beat myself up for having not done it perfectly, even if nobody else really cares or even witnesses it. Now that’s pretty messed up, I’ll admit. One idea might be to think of the Donald. What would the Donald do? I bet he’d just go ahead and do a piss poor job, then try to blame anybody else for it all while simultaneously trying to figure out how to profit financially from that screwup.

    Of course, my basic temperament won’t allow me to go that far but maybe some kind of compromise could be useful? Maybe I can learn what behavior would best fit by observing others?

  6. mago

    As the 9th century Indian pandita Shantideva said, “if something happens and you can do something about it, why worry? If something happens and you can’t do anything about it, why worry?”
    He had something for every occasion. My favorite is, “to see where you’ve been look where you are now. To see where you’re going look at where you are now.”

  7. Ian Welsh

    Yeah, “just return to doing what you intended” is part of what a lot of types of meditation are intended to teach. It took me years to realize it extended to life when not meditating.

  8. Ché Pasa

    This advice is close to the actuality of the Bodhisattva Vows in Zen Buddhism.

    Creations are numberless, I vow to free them.
    Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them.
    Reality is boundless, I vow to perceive it.
    The awakened way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it.

    One of many similar versions.

    But wait, how are you supposed to do these things and make good on your vow?

    First, a vow in Buddhism is an aspiration, not a promise.
    Second, fulfilling these vows completely is an impossibility — at least for humans in this realm. Of course. Nevertheless, you aspire to accomplish these four Great Vows during your life — with joy…

    Yes, there is so much that is terrible and getting worse in the world. Maybe right on your doorstep. And you, a frail individual, can’t come close to saving or freeing all beings. Of course not. And in order to do anything to fulfill your vows, you have to take care of yourself first. And that means,as Ian says, learning and practicing not getting upset at every damned thing in the world. There is nothing you can do about so much of it. Respond to what you can do something about, whether it’s helping someone in need, teaching by example, or being kind and generous.

    This can help break the thrall media and ideology often has on us. Let go of it. Look around. There is plenty you can do right here, right now, starting with self-care so you have the strength to help others. Every time you do, you’re fulfilling the vows.

    Right now I’m laid up and can’t do much of anything physically. But every day, with everyone I see, talk to, correspond with, I am open to their suffering and have positive and uplifting things to say and share with them. It’s what I can do, even though I can’t do.

    It’s delusion to think you can do much or anything about what you are urged to be outraged about this hour or this day. So what’s the point of the fear or outrage that’s deliberately being induced primarily as a marketing device? :Let it go. There is so much within your immediate realm that you might be able to do something about.

    So just do it.

  9. Trinity

    Willy, I do the exact same thing, even for things that would be good/positive for me.

    I stopped watching the news in the mid-2000s. Having a son in Iraq was part of that. It wasn’t deliberate or conscious, I think it just happened.

    I have a co-worker who leaves the TV on while she works, listening to the news. I can’t even imagine what that’s like. I encourage her to start observing what’s going on from the perspective of her own life, as that’s closer to any “truth” than the talking heads would ever share. I always notice that toilet paper rolls continue to get smaller. Extrapolating out would mean “single use” rolls will cost about $50 USD at some point, But I believe something will give, and the pendulum always swings back.

    For me personally, things are pretty bad both personally and in my environment. I’ll get through this the same as I have in the past. I can accept that things are crappy right now, for almost everyone. The hard part is that the future also looks crappy for everybody. For me, that’s a first. It seems like there was always something to look forward to, in the beforetimes. Now, not so much.

  10. Bazarov

    This sounds like a recipe for numbness.

    As you say, one result could be: “I don’t have to feel bad to act for change.”

    Another result, just as likely, could be: “I don’t feel bad so why act for change?”

    Suffering is the Mother of Revolt. If we ignored her less, we’d be in a better position, but humans only seriously begin to list to her when she’s screaming.

  11. multitude of poors

    I tend to agree with much of what you noted, Bazarov. From my recent experiences, I’ve witnessed way too much of others—who are living quite well compared to many others—currently being stoic in the face of other’s misery (my favorite expression in (The Razor’s Edge, by W. Somerset Maugham); versus understandably trying to avoid being upset when one can’t handle much more stress.

    Seems Stoicism™ has made a recent comeback in these gruesome times by those who have the least concerns to be stoic about (I’m not referring to Ian or anyone who comments here). Frankly, i’ve always held stoicism suspect as being a favored bully platform of the comfortable.

    In the neck of the woods I’m stuck in, it’s terrifying to witness the blase responses, particularly by those who ideally one would expect concern from (public servants, non-profiter VIPS, well paid Social Workers™, etcetera), to increasingly ghastly unsheltered homelessness (along with the hideous treatment of the so called sheltered homeless).

    gotta run.

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