Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you do not know what to do? Where it seems that you’re lost and the way forward is hidden. Sometimes the goals and values that have guided us in the past cease to inspire and illumine or perhaps we have passed through a life-altering calamity. Often our confusion is compounded by violent emotions. In such times, it is tempting to become cynical and frustrated.
The ancient philosophers discovered that the best way out of the malaise of deep confusion is to return to clarity and decisive action where appropriate, and avoid wasting energy in useless pursuits and endless deliberation. To this end, the great minds of classical philosophy and theology discovered five rules that clarify when we should act, what we should do, and what to ignore.
1. Do not judge (except when necessary).
Too often we make judgments about things that do not concern our lives, duties, or state in life. Often these judgments lead to unnecessary strife with others, distraction, and restlessness. Leave off making judgments that do not concern your duties or special competence.
2. Do not react (emotionally except when necessary).
Again, we often become involved in reacting emotionally to events or statements that do not concern us. This is a waste of time. Moreover, often the actions and expressions of others are bound up in their own irrationalities or struggles. Passionate reactions only get you mired in a string of irrationality.
3. Attend to yourself, that is, do your duty.
Most of what happens is out of your control. Personal flourishing and service to others are achieved by doing the good within your own power rather than fretting about the failures of others or events out of your control. Attend to your own duties; that is enough.
4. Live in the present.
Again you cannot change the past and you cannot control the future. Attend to the present duty. Guilt or anger over the past avails little; anxiety over the future is a distraction. Perform the present duty.
5. Accept all from God.
God is the first cause (not the sole cause) of every effect, change, and secondary cause. And God is wise and good. This means that the events of life are governed by a wise and good plan. It follows that we should be at peace with the course of events, even when they do not make sense to us. We should remind ourselves that God has a plan and that He knows things that we do not.
A Path towards Clarity
This path does not guarantee ease, but it does offer clarity; it opens a way forward that minimizes distraction, consoles, and effectively focuses our efforts. In our own times of great confusion, one could do far worse than following the five rules of ancient wisdom.