The Cs of Stoicare
As a carer, you face many challenges every day. How do you continue to put your heart into your work without getting burned out? How do you help dependent or disadvantaged individuals cope and even thrive in difficult circumstances? How do you care for others while also taking care of yourself?
Stoicare can help you meet each of these challenges. The Cs of Stoicism are designed to help you maintain your inner peace and evaluate the appropriate actions for your unique situation. These principles are based on Stoic theories about human flourishing at an individual and societal level.
The first 4 Cs provide a simple equation to help you maintain inner peace in the midst of difficult situations:
character + cosmos + control = choice
Let's break down this equation and see how you can apply it to your own life.
The ancient Stoics taught that we find happiness when we develop good character. As a carer, you already know the deep satisfaction that comes with doing good for others. Through your care and commitment, you are well on your way to developing your own character.
But in Stoicare, there's more to character than meets the eye. Character is actually one of the most important components of a flourishing life. Character is part of our inner excellence, which the ancient Greeks called virtue. Through the virtues of wisdom, justice, courage, and self-control, we contribute to the common good and live a happy, meaningful life.
When you are in the middle of a stressful situation, thinking about your character can help you maintain strength and peace of mind. You can take a few seconds to ask yourself the following questions:
Will this action harm or enhance my character?
Do I need compassion in this situation?
Do I need courage in this situation?
If an action will make your character better, then move ahead with it. If the action would make your character worse, find a different option. Or, if you're not quite sure what to do, ask whether compassion or courage is called for in this situation. Oftentimes focusing on one or the other of these attributes will enable you to find a solution and maintain your good character.
Compassion and Courage
For carers, two of the most important elements of character are compassion and courage.
Compassion is a rational understanding that each person is doing their best in life, but no one is perfect. And some people are much further from perfect than others! We should avoid criticizing when possible. Instead, we try to understand why someone else might make a choice we disagree with.
As compassionate carers, we try not to hold it against other people when they make mistakes. We try to teach or help them make better choices when possible. But if it's not possible to help, we bear with them patiently.
Courage is not just about bravery in battle or daring rescues in dangerous situations. Courage is also a primary component of caring. Sometimes being courageous means raising our voices and taking a stand to serve others. At other times it means the quiet, steady courage of showing up and putting in the work, day after day.
As carers we are often overworked, underappreciated, unsupported, and stressed out. By focusing on courage, we can develop our capacity to withstand hardship--even as we work toward better conditions.
Sometimes it can seem like we're all alone, struggling against the odds, with the world against us. But if we take a moment to step back and reflect on the bigger picture, we can see that's not true. When you're feeling stressed out, try to zoom out from your own life and think about the lives of everyone on your street, or in your neighborhood, or in your town. What do you think they're doing and feeling right now? Don't you think they might be experiencing similar challenges and emotions? Your situation isn't uniquely bad or exasperating. There are millions of people out there doing and feeling something similar.
The Circles of Care exercise is designed to help you regain some perspective on your life. If you haven't tried it out yet, please take a look and see if it helps you. You can try doing the Circles of Care meditation when you find yourself in the middle of a difficult situation. Even better, try to make some time to practice it regularly (on a weekend morning when you have time, for example). With regular practice, you will find your perspective changing. You will improve your ability to automatically keep things in perspective when you face a challenge.
Remember, each one of us is connected to many other people and things. The world is vastly more complex and beautiful than any one of us can see at one time. Turn your mind to something that is beautiful or worth contemplating: a lovely flower, an interesting idea, an unexpected smile. This will help you get outside your own situation and see things from a new angle, helping distance you from your negative emotions.
The classic Stoic dichotomy of control goes like this: focus on what is within your power to control (your own opinions, motivation, and actions), and don't stress about those things you can't control (which is everything else). By focusing on what you can control, you devote your energy to an area where you can make a difference. You don't waste your energy on things you can never change.
Keep in mind, though, that this is not a prescription for being passive or giving up. You can still take action, knowing that you can influence things around you, but not control them. The difference is that you act knowing the results are ultimately not up to you--you can only do what you can do. It's like the old Serenity Prayer (coined by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr), which goes like this:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
In any difficult situation, you can always stop and ask yourself what parts of the situation are truly up to you. Most of the time, the only things you directly control are your own thoughts and actions. Make sure that you get those right. After that, you can work toward influencing the other people and things around you, always making sure you maintain your own integrity.
The 7 Cs
When you put Stoicism into practice, you will find many mental benefits. Here are the 7 Cs that result from your dedicated practice of Stoicare.
Applying the 4 Cs
After thinking through your character, your position in the cosmos, and what you can control, you are ready to make your choice. How will you respond in this challenging situation? Remember, your happiness does not depend on external circumstances but on how you respond to those external circumstances. Even if other people have put you in a difficult situation, it is possible for you to make the best choice in that situation. Given what you have, what's the best you can do?
No one is perfect, and it's impossible to know everything. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your actions do not have the intended effect. That's ok--it's not your fault that you can't see the future! We are all just making the best choices we can based on the information we have. If you thought through the 4 Cs and things didn't turn out the way you hoped, you can still feel proud of yourself for making the best of a difficult situation. Try not to get discouraged. Sometimes life is just tough, no matter what you do.
Just keep coming back to the 4 Cs, and reset your intention for the next time. With practice, it will get easier to apply Stoic principles to your role as a caregiver.