I like memes. They are the new millennium’s version of the fortune cookie: sage advice, deep thoughts, or clever quotes presented in bite-sized pieces, accompanied by lovely visuals.
Without memes, I’d never have learned about the poetry of Rumi, or been inspired to read his work. Without memes, I would have encountered far less philosophy. Without memes, I wouldn’t have been able to fully appreciate the wit of Will Ferrell.
Most helpful are the inspirational and philosophical ones. They have replaced the daily quotation book reading I used to engage in each morning. It’s the work of minutes to find a post on social media that applies to whatever you happen to be dealing with.
Some are like junk food — tasty, but they don’t satisfy. Some offer more. Quotes from Stoic philosophers seem especially popular of late. My exposure via the decorative word-bite inspired me to expand my knowledge. A favourite philosophy book is one I discovered after reading an online quote from Epictetus’ The Enchiridion. It’s a short read, but I’ve found almost every entry to be insightful and salient.
The quote from the opening pages is a favourite: “Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.”
“The only thing in our control is our own actions.”
I never gave that idea much thought before. I assumed my brain was its own independent entity. The idea that I had control over what I thought, that I could choose what thoughts to attend to, seemed revolutionary.
I have struggled with anxiety for most of my life. Particularly challenging is the way in which your thoughts run away from you. They take you down dark and twisted roads and leave you miserable and panicked. For years, my method of dealing was to try and chase the thoughts away with fairly unhealthy coping mechanisms. The quote by Epictetus changed that.
My thoughts don’t just happen. I have control over what I pay attention to. Control of the self is actually one of the few controls we have. Thoughts rise up in the brain, but they don’t have to be accepted. I can choose what I want to embrace.
So, bring on the memes. Share the things that you love with the world. You never know who might be paying attention, or what it might inspire.
Image: Simer Haer/The Cascade