Circumstance, Meaning, Virtue

A Policy of Appeasement

“Blessed is he, who has learned to bear what he cannot change, and to give up with dignity, what he cannot save.”

Friedrich Schiller, 1801, Über das Erhabene


To a very real degree, how someone else feels, is not our responsibility.

That is not meant in a flippant sense. It is not suggesting that we go around, behaving disgracefully towards people and upsetting them. It is suggesting however, that we should not appoint ourselves guardians of another person’s emotions. When we take on the responsibility of maintaining someone else’s feelings, we are foolishly attempting to control something that we simply can’t.

When we are faced with someone who is emotional towards us, it is tempting to act in accordance with those emotions.

For example, if someone is upset with us, we might apologise without any real thought to the matter. We do it to free ourselves from the discomfort of their upset. We act to appease their feelings. In doing this we face a danger of starting a fire we have no way of putting out. We, ultimately have no control over how someone else feels. We can very easily get caught in a continuous cycle of upset; attempting to appease, upset; attempting to appease. We could spend years trying to please someone, make them feel better or to simply not be in their firing line. We don’t know when, how or if that upset will ever end. Seems like a fool’s errand to participate in a game we have no power over and cannot possibly win. Like a slow release poison, over time it affects our whole being, consuming us completely.

“If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.”

Aldous Huxley, 1932, Brave New World

What we can do, is judge our own behaviour and consider if there is some way we could have done better.

If we find there is, we apologise for it and rectify it going forward. We base our actions off of reasonable evaluation of our behaviour, not their feelings. It is torture to worry and spend time on something we have no power over. If they wish to continue stewing, let them. We needn’t be dragged into the fire pit with them. To be compassionate may be considered a virtue, but we need to make sure we are not holding emotions that are not our own.

Bear what is ours to bear, nothing more and nothing less.

Pablo Picasso, 1904, The Frugal Repast. The Met. © 2018 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Pablo Picasso, 1904, The Frugal Repast. The Met.
© 2018 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


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