False Friends


In my family I am known as a joke a perpetual student of a number of languages. The concept of faux amis or false friends is that even though there are one thousand or more French and English words that are virtually identical, there are some which seem to be cognates but are emphatically not.

There is likewise a Greek word apatheia describing the Stoic ideal which is the root of our English word apathy, but the sense is not at all the same.  Neither world-weariness or indifference, the Stoic apatheia is better understood as equanimity.  The stated aim of the Stoic was a certain psychic invulnerability to the whims of Fate.  Life is a mixture of illness and health, peace and war, sun and dark, birth and death. The Stoics urged the state of apatheia to greet “Triumph and Disaster” as Rudyard Kipling wrote, and “treat those two imposters just the same.”*

In Coaching, we offer a thought to our clients that circumstances in life are essentially neutral until we have a thought about them. This is not always accepted by clients.  To be sure, no matter how long we study or accept that premise, most of us will be challenged frequently to accept the idea of neutral circumstances.  


Equanimity when contemplating death?

Equanimity when contemplating racism?

Equanimity when contemplating child abuse?

Equanimity when contemplating bankruptcy or unemployment?

The Stoics teach that we watch our thoughts about the circumstances in the world and the feelings they trigger.  Why?  Not to condone injustice or harm or challenge, but rather to have all the human power possible at our disposal to heal, teach, protect, invest and cultivate.  Human as they are, outrage, condemnation, reaction and hate are poor solutions to what we identify as problems.  

In fact, these emotions may become false friends we turn to time and again.  Intense feelings that can hijack our emotional bandwidth and may even seem noble while we do nothing but rage, condemn, react and hate.


I struggle sometimes with teaching my clients the idea of Circumstances in Life – Facts – being neutral.  I still think some Circumstances are more neutral than others and that some are really not very neutral at all. 
Yet, I do very much believe that the best way to deal with all circumstances, particularly the ones I think are provoking or triggering me is to DECIDE that they are neutral. From the feeling of equanimity I may be able to make further decisions and bring energy to the solutions and actions which may be in my power.


What emotional False Friends do I turn to repeatedly?  

Judgment? Yes.

Anger? Unquestionably.

Apathy?  All too often.

These friends feel familiar and real but they offer me and those who are suffering nothing. Through my Coaching practice I choose to befriend and cultivate apatheia even when it feels inauthentic or insufficient to concentrate on where I can do good, foster change, learn more and support others.  

What False Friends do you turn to?  Choose one this week and pay attention.  Notice when it shows up and see if it distracts you from making powerful choices or taking meaningful action.  

Maybe, like me, you need better friends.

*This line from Kipling’s classic poem If is apparently written over the doors of the Players’ Entrance to Centre Court at Wimbledon.

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