I was inside a creepy old building and I stood there terrified, crying. I looked at the exit, trying to see if I could run. Next to the doors were ancient paper mache mannequins, crumbling from age, guarding the exit like demons from another world. The scene looked like something out of Silent Hill.
I couldn’t find my mom.
Before I could make a run for the exit, a giant, angry woman grabbed me as she screamed in a language I couldn’t understand. She was dragging me further and further from the exit. Finally I turned around and punched her.
That was the experience of my first day of kindergarten. The scary building was my school and the angry lady was my teacher. She didn’t like me much after that.
What followed was a lifetime in the US education system. I would quickly learn English, then basic math, science, history even some physical education. An lndustrial Age education system trying to raise productive adults.
One of the problems with this well meaning but archaic system is that it doesn’t teach a fundamental life skill: the ability to control our emotions. Paraphrasing Naval Ravikand: there is outside stimulus, and there is your response to that stimulus, and in between is your freedom.
Ultimately, we can’t control what will happen to us. Not our fate, our fortune or our health. One day you’re at home, watching reruns of Chips and the Incredible Hulk with Lou Ferigno, the next day you’re abandoned for 8 hours in a scary old building.
To quote the Stoic Epictitus, “We control our reasoned choice and all acts that depend on that moral will. What’s not under our control are the body and any of its parts, our possessions, parents, siblings, children, or country—anything with which we might associate.”
Looking back at that first day of school, and the 17 years of education that followed, not one day of class was devoted to learning to harness our emotions and reactivity. Never a chance to learn the most fulfilling skill of them all.
If you feel like you’ve been missing something after all those years of education, give the Stoics a chance.