On discontent

Ever notice how some people love to moan and gripe? I have noticed that more than just a few individuals make negativity and complaining central to their conversational repertoire.

Recently I had a chat with a young man who appeared to be harboring a tremendous amount of anger and outrage regarding the existence of the extremely wealthy. At the mere mention of names like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates, his face flushed and his temper flared.

“Rich people’s children receive unfair advantages that guarantee they will enjoy success regardless of their talents, skills or personal efforts," he said. "My child, however, will have to fight and struggle every day of his life and may never succeed.”

His angst then moved on to the inadequacies of democratic capitalism in the uneven distribution of wealth and in how the powerful are able to take advantage of the underprivileged. He was also infuriated about perceptions that his generation has a terrible work ethic. The chat went on at length and ran in several more directions, but this is enough for you to get the point.

Anyway, I calmly pointed out that the Oligarchs in Communist Russia are pretty wealthy. His response was to dismiss that situation as being unique to Russian Communism.

I suspected what was really going on here might be frustration born of desiring things outside of his power or control.
When I see a man anxious, I say, "What does this man want? If he did not want something which is not in his power, how could he be anxious?" – Epictetus, Discourses 2.13.1
I knew that he was earning a lucrative wage, and on top of that was working from home. I also wondered at his seemingly heated anger at stories of employers who who were not satisfied with the current crop of young employees. So I asked him, “Do you think those employers are talking about you? You work hard and earn a good wage. So what importance are their comments to you?”

He just stared at me.

Perhaps the underlying source of his discontent goes deeper than his conversational topics, maybe having to do with his marriage. Or worse, he just enjoys being discontented.
Would you let me tell you what manner of man you have shown us that you are? You have exhibited yourself to us as a mean fellow, querulous, passionate, cowardly, finding fault with everything, blaming everybody, never quiet, vain: this is what you have exhibited to us. – Epictetus, Discourses 3.2

Comments