Astrology? Is This Where Philosophy Majors Are Employed?

I don’t believe in astrology.  Telling the future through astronomy, playing the lottery and hoping to win, and predicting stock prices all belong in the same intellectual slop bucket in my opinion.  However, I find it fun to look up my horoscope once and a while just to see what’s up in the universe.  Everyone reads fortune cookies, so give me a break.  I found a creepily accurate free cell phone application that tells me (an Aquarius) my fortune for the near future.  Here were a few of my readings recently:

Aquarius horoscope for Dec 26 2013 by DailyHoroscope

Love is the focus for you today, Aquarius.  As you end this year and travel into the next, you may find yourself doing a lot of introspection about your love life. Whether you are in a committed relationship or looking for love, this will be a period of self-assessment. You may want to set off on a quest to either find the perfect relationship, or to improve the relationship you already have. The stars are encouraging and supporting this endeavor, so be sure to make the most of this time. You may have been wondering if you can have it all in romance, and you can – but you have to make the effort.

Aquarius horoscope for Dec 27 2013 by DailyHoroscope

To get something you want in life, you sometimes have to let something else go. That may be the dilemma you are now facing, Aquarius. You have a firm grip on something that you are afraid to lose, but it will be necessary if you want to move forward. Letting go, though, may make you feel less secure. After all, you can’t predict the future. What if you let go of what you have, only to fail at getting what you want in its place? The best way to proceed is to operate on faith and intuition.

Aquarius horoscope for Dec 28 2013 by DailyHoroscope

What is perfect for you may not be perfect for someone else. That’s why you will need to resist the urge to guide someone aggressively in a particular direction. You may feel compelled to do so in the theme of helping this person out. You may think that you know what’s best, and maybe you do, Aquarius. But ultimately your friend or loved one will have to make the choice him/herself. The biggest help you can offer is to be a sounding board and a mentor.

Aquarius horoscope for Dec 29 2013 by DailyHoroscope

You have a tough choice to make Aquarius. But at least you have a choice. That’s the way you should choose to look at an unfolding drama, even though it’s tough it is still up to you to gravitate to what you want or need. Don’t be pressured by anyone else, or you will give away this sacred power that you now have. Allow yourself the time to fully figure out where you want to go, and then choosing your path to the future will be far easier and more rewarding.

Prayers Have Been Answered: Employment for Philosophy Graduates

Sometimes the horoscope application is way off, but other times I start to wonder if God is text messaging me.  It would be a great joke for a deity to play.  Pick the least credible form of media and answer a few prayers, give some tips, just for fun. Why not?

On a more realistic note, this application is very clever.  Whoever writes these particular horoscopes has a knack for giving generally good advice.  The more I started to think about it, the more I realized that the best tips the author writes are actually philosophical principles nicely wrapped in colloquial narrative.  A clever way of making yourself employable as a philosophy major!

In fact, some of the tips are actually quite Stoic. Earlier I wrote about how I’m reading the manual for success written by the Stoic philosopher Epictetus nearly 2000 years ago.  In the horoscopes mentioned above, I see several principles from Epictetus’ manual:

  1. Forgive Over and Over
  2. Accept Events As They Occur
  3. Mind your own business
  4. Create your own merit

Forgive Over and Over

There are only two people you need to forgive: yourself, and others. Please excuse my imitation of the Yogi Berra, the famous American baseball player pseudo-philosopher who is well known for his paradoxical and tautological humour.  Stoicism encourages practitioners to remember that all people are generally trying to do the best that they can.  Remember that people’s actions and our interpretations of them are all a matter of perspective. Forgive yourself and try to do better next time. Forgive others over and over.  As Sharon Lebell writes in Epictetus – The Art of Living:

When someone speaks to you curtly, disregards what you say, performs what seems to be a thoughtless gesture or even an outright evil act, think to yourself, “If I were that person, and had endured the same trials, borne the same heartbreaks, had the same parents, and so on, I probably would have said or done the same thing.”  We are not privy to the stories behind people’s actions, so we should be patient with others and suspend our judgment of them, recognizing the limits of our understanding.  This does not mean we condone evil deeds or endorse the idea that different actions carry the same moral weight.

When people do not act as you would wish them to, exercise the muscles of your good nature by shrugging your shoulders and saying to yourself “Oh well.” Then let the incident go.

Try, also, to be as kind to yourself as possible. Do not measure yourself against others or even against your ideal self.  Human betterment is a gradual, two-steps forward, one-step-back effort.

Accept Events As They Occur

Living by this principle is hard.  Nassim Taleb had suggested that you should think of yourself as a character in an absurdist play.  I like the analogy, and personally I have begun to consider life as an improvised comedy sketch.  The actors are thrust on stage, given their character, situation and props and then left to their own devices in front of an eager audience.  Go!  Act!  Be funny and good!  Everyone is waiting to see what you come up with.  According to Epictetus, the Stoics agreed that accepting events is the only way to tranquility in life:

Don’t demand or expect that events happen as you would wish them to. Accept events as they actually happen. That way peace is possible.

Mind Your Own Business

You can waste a lot of precious emotional energy if you invest yourself in things outside of your own control.  Remember that you only control your own actions – your interpretations of and your reactions to external events.  If you can avoid investing your energy in matters that don’t concern you, you will live with less stress, and have more time and energy to focus on self improvement where your effort counts!  When it comes to relationships, this doesn’t mean we should shun others and live as a hermit.  It means improve yourself and reap the benefits of self improvement by osmosis.  Don’t try too hard to help others, beyond simple mentorship and leading by example.

Keep your attention focused entirely on what is truly your own concern, and be clear that what belongs to others is their business and none of yours.  If you do this, you will be impervious to coercion, and no one can ever hold you back. You will be truly free and effective, for your efforts will be put to good use and won’t be foolishly squandered finding fault with or opposing others.

Create Your Own Merit

This is where I began with my blog.  How can you be successful if you can’t even define success precisely?  Successful lives make excellent use of opportunities through disciplined work.  Notice the two essential components: opportunity (luck) and discipline (work).  Work is the easy part, because it’s completely under your own control.  Opportunity is luck based, and requires a little faith.  Faith that things will work out eventually, miracles can happen, and things can turn around.  We don’t always see the path ahead of us.  Choosing the best path can take some time for self exploration.  After all, the question of success is the biggest question there is. What’s the best use of your life?

Never depend on the admiration of others. There is no strength in it.  Personal merit cannot be derived from an external source… Think about it: what is really your own? The use you make of the ideas, resources, and opportunities that come your way.  Do you have books? Read them. Learn from them.  Apply their wisdom.  Do you have specialized knowledge?  Put it to its full and good use.  Do you have tools?  Get them out and build or repair things with them.   Do you have a good idea? Follow up and follow through on it.  Make the most of what you’ve got, what is actually yours. 

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About Zeno

Zeno is an engineering graduate, currently working as software developer in Canada. The alias was adopted in honour of Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoic philosophy in ancient Greece.
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