Keep Calm and Carry On

“Keep calm and carry on” was a phrase created by the British Government to improve morale during World War II. I only know this because I Googled it. I need to backtrack to explain why.

When I sat down this morning to write, I didn’t know what to write about. So, I scanned through my growing list of ideas and settled on one. But when I opened my browser, I got distracted and forgot the topic.

I have a Google Chrome plugin called “Momentum.” Whenever I open a new browser tab, it fills the screen with a large, scenic photograph. The only other things displayed are the time, a personal greeting, an inspirational quote, and a single “to do” item. I type the one main thing I want to accomplish that day, and that goal mocks me the rest of the day — every time I open a new tab.

At 9:42 this morning, I typed in my single goal: publish an article. Then I glanced at the inspirational quote in tiny font at the bottom of the screen. This is when I forgot my original topic:

Keep Calm and Carry On

“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” – Marcus Aurelius

Translation: keep calm and carry on. Now I know where the British got their inspiration.

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor and a Stoic. I’m not a student of Stoicism, so I won’t go into too much detail. It’s basically a philosophy that emphasizes logic and self-control over emotion. It teaches that we should control the things that are in our power, and let go of the rest. Stoicism was popular 2,000 years ago, and it’s even more popular now. “What’s old is new again,” or something like that.

But, his quote describes the lens through which I try to view the world. I know I can’t control other people, so I try to not let things bother me.

I’m still a work in progress.

Keep calm and…drive on?

I know that guy saw me, but he still pulled out in front of me!

This happens all the time. My gut reaction is to blow the horn, call down curses, and tailgate him to teach him a lesson. Doesn’t he know I’m an amazing driver? He must pay for his injustices! He should apologize, and maybe pull over and let me take back my rightful position on the road.

I’ve tried this approach many times. It doesn’t work. In fact, it’s amazing someone hasn’t stopped in the middle of the street and challenged me to a dual.

But Marcus would tell me to chill out. Right or wrong — and depressing as this is — I have no control over any other drivers on the road. The only thing I can do is try my best to follow the driving laws and pray that everyone else is doing the same.

Keep calm and…ignore the media?

Chaos! The whole world is in shambles! It’s all over the news!

Modern society is nothing but violence, scandals, and corruption. At least, that’s what the media wants us to think. Every story is designed to keep us watching or reading so they can show us more advertising. This is the business model of the media. And since humans are mesmerized by fear and sensationalism, that’s what we’re fed. It’s like watching a train wreck every day.

Except what we see and read isn’t always accurate. Sometimes, stories are more opinion than fact. Other times, a quote is taken out of context and spun into a scandal. But — worst of all — sometimes stories are completely fabricated and then planted in the media just to create controversy.

The book Trust Me, I’m Lying does a great job of explaining how people manipulate the media, straight from the horse’s mouth. It came out five years ago — long before “fake news” became a widely-known problem.

To summarize the book in 49 words: People fabricate stories and send them to bloggers, who are more concerned with page views than actually verifying the stories. Mid-level media outlets then run the stories, citing the blogs as their sources. The national media runs the most “clicked” or viewed stories, citing the mid-level outlets as sources.

I have no idea how common this sort of manipulation is. And since I can’t control the media, I take everything with a (giant) grain of salt.

Keep calm and…keep calm?

Why is he acting so weird to me? Why hasn’t my boss responded to my email? What did she mean when she said that?

I could keep going, but the point is we spend a lot of time obsessing over our interactions with other people. When someone doesn’t respond how we expect them to, we think something is wrong. We think we did or said something wrong, but it’s usually all in our heads.

We have no clue how the person we’re obsessing over is doing. Maybe they’re dealing with family drama. Maybe they’re under a lot of pressure at work. Or, their brain could just be checked out because they had a third glass of wine last night. Any of these things can impact the person’s mood and their interaction with us.

Human beings crave validation and acceptance from others. It’s a critical part of self-esteem — at least according to Maslow.

Keep Calm, Maslow

When we have an interaction that’s weird or ambiguous, it messes with our heads. Our brains connect dots, fill in missing details, and piece together an image (or mirage) of a problem that may not exist. And that mirage is usually more negative than the reality of the situation.

At least that’s how my brain seems to work. So, I try to downplay the interaction. I can’t control the other person’s mood, I can only make sure I’m not being a jerk.

I guess the Stoics were onto something

There are billions of people in this world, and most of us manage to coexist peacefully. It’s a miracle, honestly.

Life is fragile enough without me worrying about things I can’t control. So it’s relieving — and sometimes scary — to embrace the idea that I can only control my own thoughts and actions. We can’t control what anyone else thinks, says, or does. Why waste time and energy worrying?

P.S. — If you’re interested in the whole “control the things you can and let go of the rest” Stoic philosophy, start here: The Obstacle is the Way. It’s written by Ryan Holiday, the same guy that wrote Trust Me, I’m Lying.

I'm Brandon.

I’m a dad who writes about being a dad. When I can find the time between wiping butts and breaking up fights and chauferring and working. 

And since you’re just as busy as me, I’ll make this easy. Enter your email address and I’ll send you my latest posts.