There has been a lot of ink spilled discussing the results of the recent presidential election here in the States. I’m going to add to it today.
You can relax, though, because I will not be talking about politics directly.
Instead, I want to talk about dealing with loss and disappointment.
President Obama on Disappointment and Loss
After the election, President Obama got on a conference call with alumni of his campaigns. On the call, he addressed the disappointment that his former staffers surely felt at the results of the election.
“Now, that doesn’t mean that we’re not all disappointed by what happened last week. I think it’s fair to say that your President feels your pain on this one. It doesn’t feel good. And in some ways it feels worse because, for a lot of us, I think we didn’t see it coming. Surprising losses are harder than losses you see.”
This quote was flagged by our friend over at Mustard Seed Money, who was specifically interested in the idea that “Surprising losses are harder than losses you see.”
Wisdom of the Ancients
President Obama is not the first to suggest this idea. If we return to our friends the Stoics, we see that Seneca has addressed this same thought in two different works.
In On Tranquility, Seneca says that thinking about negative outcomes “softens the shock of disasters” and that loss and disappointment “bear heavily on thoughtless men whose view is limited to the agreeable.”
He suggests a similar idea in Of Consolation, in which he notes that “When, therefore, misfortune befalls us, we cannot help collapsing all the more completely, because we are struck as it were unawares.”
In order to guard ourselves against being overly harmed by loss and disappointment, then, Seneca suggests that we should set aside time to think through the negative outcomes that could befall us. After all, “a blow which has long been foreseen falls much less heavily upon us.”
Thus, we should think through things that could go wrong. We should consider what it would be like to lose possessions or relationships that we currently have.
This is difficult for most people to do. Seneca recognizes this and suggests an easier approach, based on the idea that “What one hath suffered may befall us all.”
Here, Seneca suggests looking at the negative things that are happening to those around you. This approach is similar to the “there but for the grace of God go I” thought process. The luck that is holding all of these negatives at bay could end at any time, and so we must be prepared to deal with that.
Seneca tells us that “by looking forward to the coming of our sorrows we take the sting out of them when they come.”
Of course, none of this helps if you have already been blindsided by disappointment.
Seneca writes that grieving and disappointment are natural reactions to suffering a loss. He also suggests that you need to find a way to deal with it, because crying about it won’t fix anything.
“If fate can be overcome by tears, let us bring tears to bear upon it: let every day be passed in mourning, every night be spent in sorrow instead of sleep. . . . But if the dead cannot be brought back to life, however much we may beat our breasts, if destiny remains fixed and immovable forever, not to be changed by any sorrow, however great, and death does not loose his hold of anything that he once has taken away, then let our futile grief be brought to an end.”
There is no benefit to continuing to mourn indefinitely, so we need to find a way to move on. Seneca compares this to piloting a ship through a storm. The fact that you have been blindsided is unfortunate, but you cannot give in to the storm. You need to grab the rudder and steer your way through to the other side.
Find a productive use of your time. Take action. Work on projects. Exercise. Play games. Spend time with friends and family. “Whenever you are engaged in other pursuits your mind will be relieved from its burden.” You need a sense of forward progress in some area or aspect of your life in order to help you move forward from your disappointment.
And if you are trying to get over the disappointment of Secretary Clinton losing the race for President, then you may want to try to get over your disappointment quickly, before you see your Trump-supporting uncle for Thanksgiving. (And then you can go back home and donate to Planned Parenthood in his name.)