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Praise of disregard

Imagine, for example, that you receive an angry email from someone and there is nothing you can do about the person's grievances. You read it. You accept your inability to change the situation. Then you delete it. Instead of leaving it in your inbox to pull your thoughts toward an irrevocable past, the symbolic act of throwing it away frees your mental energies for more worthwhile pursuits. This is a metaphor, of course. It is probably quite easy for you to delete an email that bothers your brain. But thoughts, which are as virtual as email, can be gotten rid of as well. In all their immateriality, thoughts and emails still impose an extraordinary amount of authority and influence on our actions and frames of mind. Doing away with them has the same effect as removing a concrete obstacle from sidewalk ahead of you.

he spirit of disregard I describe resembles the early Greek notions of apatheia and ataraxia, as well as the Serenity Prayer, invoked by groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference." But the distinction is that the method of disregard I've outlined asks for a systematic identification of the very specific things that take away your energy and an active effort to undo them. Rather than a simple and passive acceptance of the things you cannot control, I favor an acceptance and then a subsequent, symbolic deletion of those things.


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