About distractions

Distractions are lethal. Small distractions result in temporary lost of concentration, which may lead to producing a piece of work with lesser quality; big distractions often have much worse consequences, and they sometimes drive one into making unethical decisions with much dire consequences.

We often place much thought on the things that distract us and attempt to remove them in the hope of stop being distracted. When on a diet for weight loss, many would fill the fridge and lunch boxes with healthy food instead of the previous less healthy options; when feeling attracted by a handsome woman/man while in a committed relationship, many would choose to simply avoid the person they feel attracted to. Offices would ban access to social networks in the hope of forcing their employees to concentrate on work, and parents would restrict access of screens from their children to help them concentrate on “things that are good for them”.

However, it’s not things that distract us, it’s the ignorant mind that makes decisions to allow things to distract us. How many overweight people end up leaving healthy food rotting in their fridges while making additional purchases for junk food? How many adulterer end up having affairs after months of trying to avoid the handsome woman/man? The inability to access Facebook at work would not stop one from accessing over the phone, and even the most strict parents would find their kids accessing screens without their consent: either from a friend’s phone or from a public internet cafe.

Whenever we decide to assent to a emotion, we should pause and think: is my decision rational and in accordance with virtue? Would a wise person stuff his face with junk food knowing it’s important to loose weight? The attraction to a handsome woman/man is natural, but it’s irrational to give assent to accepting a private lunch/dinner invitation from that person, and one must have the courage to decline it. When getting paid to do a job, it’s only just to fulfill your end of bargain by completing the work before catching up with personal affairs. When it comes to children, since their rational minds aren’t fully formed, it’s up to the adults around them to demonstrate the virtue temperance, so they will develop the ability of self-control.

Epictetus said: it’s not things that disturb us, but our judgement of things.

It’s not things that distract us, but our willingness to allow ourselves to be distracted.

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Learning to suffer nobly

Several friends of mine also have children. They are normal, healthy children, seemingly perfect and without any defects. My friends laugh and play with their children everyday, posting beautiful photos on social networks, filled with joy and happiness.

There have been times that I’d go to bed wishing that maybe tomorrow my child will miraculously be healed by some kind of divine intervention. Wishful thinking such as this only leads to that heavy disappointment and dread when I wake up finding my child still crippled.

I suffer quietly.

Dr. Viktor Frankl in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” compared suffering to gas in a chamber: “If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.

My suffering is perhaps nothing compared to what Dr. Frankl had to go through: years of living in concentration camps, treated like an animal, suffering through hunger, diseases and emotional abuses. All I have to endure is to look after a child with Cerebral Palsy(CP). Still, my suffering fills me up, makes me teary and afraid of the world. What would other parents think of me? Oh that poor woman, stuck with that crippled child. Does her child have a disease? Could her child infect mine? I’d better stay away from them, we belong to different worlds.

These thoughts, however horrific they may seem, belong to me. I’m scared others may think this way because if I had been one of them, I’d think this way, and I have been thinking this way. Did I not turn my eyes away from those parents with mentally retarded or autistic children, even years after I had accepted my own child’s disability? Did I not stare at that woman working in the local supermarket, thinking, oh there’s something wrong with her and I’m scared?

It isn’t the things themselves that disturb people, but the judgement that they form about the things.” – Epictetus.

Upon listening to these wise words, I revisited those impressions of mine: “My child is disabled, many parents would either pity me or stay away from us because they don’t want to see ugliness in this world. My child is doomed to be alone for the rest of her life. She will not be able look after herself, without me, she will die.” How much of this is factual, and how much is my imagination?

“My child is disabled”, that’s true, she has CP which will most likely to stay with her forever. However, CP itself isn’t scary, it is just a medical condition, and many health experts in the world are working very hard to help these children who have it.

“Many parents would either pity me or stay away from us because they don’t want to see ugliness in this world.” it’s true that people tend to turn away from things that are abnormal, we are trained this way through evolution. Would other parents pity or stay away from me? Maybe, however, is it within my control how others would act around me? No! well then, throw away the thought!

“My child is doomed to be alone for the rest of her life.” The future holds no promise, if I can’t control how other parents think, how can I control how other children think of my child? Well, I may influence my child’s attitude towards socialising by taking her to playgroups, maybe build some relationships with other parents. One thing for sure: the way I act around others will influence her forever. I must have courage, go out and interact with others appropriately, make things within my control happen – at least make an effort to hang out if other parents ask me!

“She will not be able look after herself, without me, she will die.” She will die, regardless of me being alive. While I’m alive, it’s my duty to look after her and care for her. I can influence how much she’d be able to look after herself by teaching her, tutoring her, but ultimately, it’s up to her how she’d live her life after I’m gone.

Seneca wrote to Lucilius on groundless fear that “we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” Just how much of my suffering came from my imagination? When I peel away the apparent emotions associated with the impressions, is what’s left really worthy of the tears?

I can not escape my suffering, but I can at least learn to suffer nobly.