What is adversity?
A dialogue between Socrates the stick and Baruch the heron. Socrates knows he does not know anything and this leads him to ask many questions. He then examines the answers. Baruch spends a lot of time still and this allows him to understand that he is an element in relation to the whole of the universe where everything is linked.
Socrates: ah, Baruch, there you are, tell me, have you ever had days when nothing goes right?
Baruch: Socrates, those days are part of life …
Socrates: but do you know why they happen ?
Baruch: I believe those are tests.
Baruch: endurance tests, personality tests, tests to see if you let yourself down or if you get up to continue. To let go in adversity is to become sad, so you always have to struggle to be happy and these days remind us of that.
Socrates: do you have an example?
Baruch: not long ago, I was perched on one of my legs watching for fish when a strong wind rose and a branch fell on me. I wanted to get into my heronry to rest but when I arrived, I no longer had a home, it had flown away.
Socrates: this is why my motto is never to be too joyful in happiness nor too sad in sorrow because I know that everything is fleeting and therefore I do not take anything for granted. It saves me unpleasant surprises and prepares me for the worst. But you, what did you do?
Baruch: I laid down in a thicket hoping the fox wouldn’t find me and I spent the night there. The wind calmed down, my wing recovered, I repaired my heronry with all the branches that had fallen. It made me happy both to see how I overcame adversity and that what it had brought on was also serving me in overcoming it. I savored the moment without restraint because I had deserved it.
Socrates: I am impressed by your tenacity.
Baruch: when nothing is going well, you have to regain your strength and wait for the next day. If nothing has worked out, at least you have some fresh energy to start the day and fix what needs to be fixed. We must also see that everything has a cause and that adversity finds its origin in the causality of the world. It is therefore inevitable and this knowledge is calming. It takes away the guilt.
Socrates: what if it’s worse? Let’s say the fox found you…
Baruch: dear Socrates, I didn’t know you were so pessimistic. As far as I am concerned and as you said yourself, I believe that everything goes away. So if the fox eats me despite my best efforts to avoid it, my life goes away and I can no longer fight. It’s a test that I cannot overcome in this case. What is in the order of things, I can only accept.
Socrates: I understand: if you have been consistent in your beliefs and actions, there is nothing to regret. For me, the certainty of acting according to my conscience allows me to always have peace of mind and to accept what comes as it comes. On this point, we agree.
Baruch: we also often have to let time pass to find the solution that escapes us because we are too busy with what is wrong. It is this certainty that makes me calm.
Socrates: so, bad days are occasions to think about how to have a good day.
Baruch: that’s right. But why did you ask me the question?
Socrates: I like to find with you the confirmation of my ideas even if we often have different starting points.
Baruch: so you will never stop asking me questions, I’m afraid, and thus scare away the fish. Besides, speaking of that, have you thought of bringing me some?
Socrates: dear Baruch, you know how to get back to essential things! Don’t worry, I have some, I’ll drop them off there!
Baruch: don’t worry, this arrangement is temporary, I will soon be leaving for the south to spend the winter there.
Socrates: another way of avoid the days when nothing goes right!
Baruch: and survive, yes, that’s true, the solutions are manifold.
Can we make sense of adversity?
For Baruch, it allows beliefs to be tested and the value of previous decisions to be reexamined. These are therefore painful but essential moments that are part of the world order. Knowing it makes it possible to remain calm and to better fight to regain happiness.
For Socrates, not hoping too much helps alleviate the difficulty of days when nothing is going well and to mitigate the exuberance of days when everything is fine. The moderation of emotions is therefore the remedy for adversity.
Is it always good weather after the rain?
Is moderation of passions compatible with happiness?
Want to think a little more? See, for example, Ethics where Spinoza explains how you become happy when you understand that God, nature and causality are the same. This then allows you to detach yourself from your individuality, a source of sadness.
Want to contribute to these dialogues? Write your comments and questions below.
Want to know more about the tastes of Socrates and Baruch? Their favorite books are in the domain library.