Vultures picking at the bones of a giant

I had an epiphany. Here it is:

Self-mastery is not the the suppression of negative emotions, but the control of them. It is the ability to feel them in all their potency, yet not let them affect your action and judgement.

I was in the gym when I came up with those two sentences. In between deadlifts, I scribbled them on the whiteboard, took a picture and emailed it to myself. After I got home, I pulled out my notebook and wrote it down.

Then I had what you could call an “ah-fuck” moment. To illustrate why, read this passage from Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile:

“Stoicism is about the domestication, not necessarily the elimination, of emotions. It is not about turning humans into vegetables.

See the familiarity? What I’d done is restated something I’d read before in a different form and thought it was an original thought. It wasn’t. But why am I telling you this? 

A few days ago, I came across this line from Patrick Rothfuss’ The Wise Man’s Fear

“Modern philosophers scorn Teccam, but they are vultures picking at the bones of a giant.” 

​Teccam is an ancient, fictional philosopher from Rothfuss’ universe. But the point remains. We are all, me included, just building upon a foundation laid by other great men and women that have been and gone.

We are all vultures.

I think my false sense of originality demonstrates something else. The things we’ve learnt arise at the most unlikely times. Often years after we first came across them. Which makes it very difficult to figure out how much what we’ve learned has affected us. It’s difficult to see the difference all the studying and thinking is making.

Episodes like this raise another question. One that threatens the ego. Is most of what we claim to be original insight just an echo of someone else’s thought?