A case for the commute

Joey likes Mustachianism. I am however a poor adherent of this philosophy. This is likely due to a number of deeply rooted pathological conditions where,

1. I don’t like being told what to do. So I constantly rage against good advice. Often becoming uncooperative and doing the opposite.

and

2. Once a concept reaches a certain critical mass of partisans I tend to get combative and burdensome on those around me and trundle off to go find something new.

One of the core tenants of Mustachianism is ‘Live close to where you work’, which is conceptually logical, good advice and offers a range of benefits. I refuse to accept this.

There are some advantages to a lengthy commute. Okay, maybe only two that I can think of. The first is the time to listen to audio-books and podcasts… for without my commute I doubt I would have the ‘time’ to commit to such an enterprise.

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The other is being able to practice stoicism.

Because of the variable nature of traffic our minds struggle to develop a bulwark against it. While it may feel like a Groundhog day, each day is a different experience. Each day various commuters try to end you in slightly different places and in slightly different ways. Gridlock and weather varies in time, location and ferocity.

This chaotic environment is a fantastic modern day proving ground. It easy to espouse stoicism. Its harder to practice it when someone has just cut you off, slammed on brakes and almost forced you into a collision with the concrete retaining wall.

I don’t always succeed in letting it slide. Occasionally the slight is of such vitriolic intent I immediately default to a much more primal state of being, which is often accompanied with coarse language and referencing their female progenitor in crude and unseemly terms. In my juvenescence serious transgressions may have even been followed up with some aerobatics involving a run-up.

These days such occurrences are exceptionally rare… and I haven’t roundhouse kicked anyone in anger for… quite some time now. I like to say a decade, but my wife likes to remind me of an unfortunate situation where someone tried to mow me down at a pedestrian crosswalk, an experience which may have irked me into barbarism.

But barring some almost imperceptible transgressions I’ve had a good run. So much so that I am almost tempted to rummage around in my stationary and stick a gold star on my ample forehead.

There used to be a sign next to the door at my old Boxing/MMA gym which read ‘Leave your ego at the door’. I always through this was cute but largely meaningless, because NO-ONE left their ego at the door, least of all the coaches and instructors. It was a hyper aggressive and competitive environment where ego reigned supreme.

Eventually when I started teaching at a CQC school, there was also a sign next to the door. ‘Train in chaos, thrive in chaos’.

I like this much more.

How can you practice stoicism in a perfect bubble? You need to expose yourself to hardship. While I’m not advocating the Admiral James Stockdale* approach to stoicism or the Nelson Mandela** approach I do think we need to put ourselves in situations that challenge us and take us out of our comfort zone.

* Shot down over Vietnam, James Stockdale spent seven years as a POW. He largely credits Epictetus with getting him through that ordeal

**Nelson Mandela spent 27 in prison. He credits the stoic poem Invictus for his presence of mind.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul. 

When compared to real hardship an arduous morning commute seems a little feeble as a comparison. But I feel I need to use whats available to me. I don’t have any other real hardship. My liberty is not curtailed. I do not struggle with disease or disability. Generally speaking I lead a soft and coddled life, my commute is all I’ve got.

My hope is that I can get to a point where traffic no longer affects me and that hopefully that presence of mind is absorbed into other areas of my life where I’m inclined to have a bad emotional response. Check out queues, airport security, flight delays, poor service etc.

I’m definitely not there yet. But hopefully one day, maybe.