If a close friend had their home broken into, you’d comfort them and tell them that it was only stuff that had been stolen. If your child broke their favorite toy, you’d tell them that these things happen and try to get them to play with something else. If a waiter spilled on your friend, you’d calm them down by saying it was an accident. Basically, when stuff happens to other people, we’re able to see it clearly with some perspective and some detachment.
But when our stuff breaks or is lost, it’s always so much different. It’s suddenly a tragedy, or worse, a deliberate misdeed that has been wrongly inflicted upon us. I lost so much. But I really loved that toy. You ruined my favorite shirt. You meant to do that. We take it personally, because it is personal–it happened to us.
And then we’re miserable.
That’s why the Stoics try to practice detachment. Not in the sense that they don’t love other people or that they avoid relationships or possessions, but in the sense that when something happens to one of those things, they try to see it with some perspective. Epictetus points out how when someone we know loses a loved one, we can say, “that’s just life.” But when we lose a loved one, it’s suddenly, “Poor me!” And yet it is fundamentally the same event. We’ve just decided to indulge the more severe judgment–the one that doesn’t bring back the person we grieved, and only makes us feel terrible.
Epictetus’s advice when we get upset is to remember how we feel when we hear it has happened to someone else. We care, sure, but not so much that it deeply distresses us. We’re empathetic but unbroken. We’re calm, we’re collected, we understand.
And then, we move on.