Thanks to the Daily Stoic, I get an e-mail every morning to ponder. Some days they magically seem to smack me upside the head. Other days, I can push them aside as irrelevant.

Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

Today’s e-mail? “Beware the Voice in Your Head.” And it takes the words of Seneca when he spoke about Crates, expanding on them… Crates was walking and noticed a young man muttering to himself. When asked what was going on, the young man replied “I am communing with myself.” Crates’ reply? “Pray be careful, then, and take good heed; you are communing with a bad man!”

This is Aristotle, not Seneca, but still portrays a good look for a philosopher I think!

It’s not that the kid was necessarily a “bad man,” but that we sometimes get led astray by our own dark thoughts.

I can definitely identify, as I struggle having unproductive conversations with myself on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s easier to listen to those voices of self-loathing or despair than face up to the fact that they are wrong because they are always in our ear — the devil on our shoulder as it were leading us down dark paths into darker days.

But we can’t always listen to the angels either or we start to believe the stories we make up about ourselves. There has to be a balance between the good bullshit and the bad inside our heads.

This is a very real battle for me, as I am constantly trying to reconcile the positive words I hear from others about my acts and deeds and the dismissive nature of my own interior thoughts about those same things. I never live up to my own standards and sometimes I need to give myself a break — that’s the balance and the challenge.

Dwell in the dark too long and it becomes impossible for the light of the truth to reach you. Maybe I’m full of crap, but it’s taken me nearly 30 years to figure out how to take a compliment more gracefully — and I’m still awful at it. Those are our angels offering praise. And our devils are right there to tell us how full of shit those people are.

You never know what you’ll see in the dark

I remember a “talent show” at a holiday party years and years ago when the daughter of a coworker told me I sounded great and I let the devil lead. I said something to the effect of “Nah, I sucked.” And she laid into me pretty good explaining that I needed to learn how to take a compliment. I was young and stupid. 🙂

Was it a great performance? I honestly don’t remember — I think I played my guitar and sang a song. We had a couple of years where we had big holiday parties and different folks would perform (I did a duet with a friend one year and sang on my own another). I’m an ok musician and have an ok voice some days — that’s the balance I’ve struck with the angel and devil on my shoulder. It’s not — “I’m fantastic, I should perform on The Voice!” And it’s not — “Never do this in public again, ever.” It’s somewhere in-between. 🙂

That’s the battle – achieving some sort of happy medium and using my own insecurities to temper any sense of glorious achievement I may get from the world outside my head. And I’m sure I’m not alone in watching the battle lines push back and forth on a daily basis.