“It does not matter what you bear, but how you bear it,” – Seneca. This quote from the famous Stoic philosopher can serve as kickstart to plunge into some of the principles and basic guidelines of Stoicism, a well-known philosophical system that has its origins in Ancient Greece, and discover how applying this, can significantly improve the wellbeing of modern seafarer by assisting him/her to cope with efficiently on any adversity presented on the dynamic environment onboard a ship, argues Capt Yiannis Kapageridis, Safety Superindendent, QA Department, TMS TANKERS LTD
On an effort to shift the way of thinking from disappointment/passive to energetic and hopefulness/optimist and enhancing self-esteem, Stoicism provides the needful tools and illustrates the path to conquer higher quality of life by exercising the principle to be resilient by not letting external factors taking over control of one’s emotions.
According to Seneca, the first step towards that direction is not to worry about other people’s thoughts about you and more important not to seek their favor.
Seeking the favor of people can be translated by giving the key to your state of mind and happiness to others. External factors which you cannot control. Consequently, a misconduct by an officer or a peer on board could be a negative influence.
Stoic philosophy dealt with fundamental issues of self-improvement and with issues such as how someone can add valuable meaning to his/her life, how to cope with adversity, furthermore, how to manage one’s emotions and concluding how to live a life worth living and in accordance and harmony with nature.
No wonder that Stoic philosophy was widely embraced to our time and became the foundation for modern cognitive therapy. These principles and the cultivation of virtue guidance can be efficiently applied to shipping industry and provide the support and reinforcement of shipboard personnel coping with hardship and everyday difficulties.
The most important asset on achieving that is logic and reason.
These distinct elements that can only be found in human beings. Mental health and balanced state of mind can be achieved since humans can utilize executive logical functions of their brain. The quality of our lives can be elevated by exercising the principles of Stoicism. We can acknowledge that on a demanding, fast-paced shipping industry, anxiety and depressions at various levels of degree are considered amongst the basic factors that lead to minor or major incidents and unfortunately to the loss of human life.
Over the past few years the concern of mental health and the factors that influencing the wellbeing of seafarers has been introduced to shipping industry. It is generally admitted that concentrating on the aspect of mental health could lead to beneficial outcomes. The voiced concerns regarding the amelioration of seafarers living in a dynamic and constraint environment have reached to the conclusion that safety is significantly affected by the mental state and the emotional condition of shipboard personnel.
Selecting logical response over instinct reaction
Human beings can reset their mindset. The plasticity of human brain was verified by neuroscience researches over the recent years.
Therefore, we can train ourselves and change our way of “reading” daily situations and responding in a way that not only will keep us well clear from frustration, but also it will permit us to experience a constructive approach that will keep our temper balanced and our spirit higher.
Epictetus said, things that happen to us are not bad neither good. It is our impression and thoughts upon them that gives the color and value; in other words, a negative or positive sign.
Moreover, we need to avert ourselves from the hijacking of our brain from strong and negative emotions that blare our logical way of thinking. As human beings, we have our Reason to counter the various external stimuli. Our response to them can be varied. Anger, frustration, disappointment and low self-esteem can be circumvented depending on our way of thinking over the situation we are facing and furthermore by not letting our emotions to take over the control of our actions.
We need to have in mind that the various hardship and adversities that will presented in our lives can be received not only as misfortune leading to anger or depression. There is another more creative path which provides a positive and valuable respond.
To begin with, we need to accept the fact that most of the things that surrounds us are not under our control. To make things harder several things that are within us cannot be controlled as well.
“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power or our will.” – Epictetus
Nonetheless, according to Stoic philosopher Epictetus, there are few things under our control that can make the difference and lead through a meaningful and anxiety free way of thinking and consequently life. These things are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion.
A considerable part of human suffering is attributed to the wrong categorization of things above mentioned and on the fallacious thoughts that we can control things that we do not. We need to accept the things that are not under our control and focus our thoughts and efforts on the things that we can control.
During onboard tenure, it is wise not to stress for all the things that cannot be controlled by ourselves and do not feel incapable of coping with hardship in front of us whether that is called homesickness, confronting a colleague, challenged by a not easy working environment or simply by feeling that you are demotivated, trapped and lost.
The same principle can be also applied in emergency situations that require immediate response.
We must take a mental step back, slow down and look the situation from above or as it is said, “out of the box”. You need to ask yourself how I can turn this situation over to my benefit. What is the ingredient that is missing? Simply and plainly, by seeing things differently.
Do not be stuck into vicious patterns of thoughts that produce anxiety and volatile behaviors dictated by bias and prior experiences resulting in negative disposition. See the adversity in a creative way. Do not be paralyzed by the misfortune but rather accept it as part of life.
Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, wrote on his Meditations: “Begin the morning by saying to yourself: I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil.”
We need to understand that we have the power and the control over our response to people that are behaving badly, using foul language, and to numerous unfavorable situations. Do not let them ruin your day and degrade your temper.
Another great lesson that can be derived from the above quote is the importance to exercise empathy. The ability to share someone’s else feelings or experiences by imaging what it would be like to be that person.
Acceptance does not mean fatalistic and passive stance.
One can argue that acceptance of adversity and hardship in life without expressing emotions seems like living a life in a passive way. Nonetheless, that assumption is erroneous and unsubstantial.
Our thoughts and actions can make the difference in terms of taking control of our lives and influencing the life of others as well. This would in turn have a positive effect in our way of thinking.
“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” – Seneca
Seneca, a Roman statesman and a Stoic philosopher, believed that many people are not living their lives but rather wasting their time by chasing unrealistic and insignificant things. You need to take control of your life.
This powerful quote conveys the message that one should have a clear goal in his mind, a purpose that drives and keeps one motivated. Other than that, one will be wasting his time by drifting in the sea.
This principle can be also applied in the shipping management. Company’s vision and corporate long-term objectives must be endorsed by personnel onboard. The human resources management both shore-based and shipboard should clearly aim at engaging and keep its employees well motivated.
“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.” – Seneca
Anxiety, disappointment and depression have their root causes mainly on projections of the future and how badly this could be for us without however considering that this is merely a possibility and not a certainty. We have in a sense the negativity instinct. A notion responsible for not valuing things rationally and putting them in the right dimension.
Examples of things that could influence one’s mood and trigger negative emotional response are as such: not able to take a shore leave for quite some time, a peer does not show appreciation, a high rank officer being eristic, a captain which does not give you credit, feeling homesick. All the above which are not exhaustive are situations that you could encounter in shipboard tenures putting your state of mind at peril and remarkably affect the quality of your life.
“If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out this judgment now.” – Marcus Aurelius
It is important to remember that you cannot do anything when it comes to the actions or behavior of others. You should reflect on situation and reframe the problem by giving a different perspective. Reinventing your response by choosing not to get angry or deprived but instead accept it and ask yourself how I can turn over this situation to work for my advantage. What lessons can be learnt in order to improve myself?
“No, it’s fortunate that this has happened and I’ve remained unharmed by it — not shattered by the present or frightened of the future. It could have happened to anyone. But not everyone could have remained unharmed by it.” – Marcus Aurelius
Another important point that must be stressed is the fact that even if you have the control of your responses and actions upon an external stimulus, the outcome of your actions is not guaranteed that will be what you would prefer to be.
It is the effort that counts and the sense that you have done the best you could given the circumstances that will increase your self-esteem and give better perspective on the way you view your life
Stoicism provides a way of fulfilling our wellbeing by being present and not permitting external factors to take control.
Thinking what we can learn from adversity and how this can make us stronger is a challenge that it is worthwhile to achieve.
By changing our response upon the challenges that we face every day on board and ashore, we will shift our focus on the things we can influence, re-enforcing our resilience and elevating the quality of our professional life.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.