Elephants, Ants and lessons from Stoic Philosophy

Elephants feature in many folk tales and metaphors.

African Elephant

African Elephant








Two that are relevant:

  • The modern one “The Elephant in The Room”

And an old one from Africa:

  • “Worrying about the ants when the elephants are stampeding.”

In the previous post, I wrote about the book “The Obstacle is the Way”. It was an easy book to read and one I read in a couple of days. (affiliate link)

I know that by reading it quickly I missed many important lessons, last week I started re-reading it, slowly, with an orange highlighter in my hand.

On Thursday I had a dental appointment in another city. It was the first time I had visited this dental surgery. To avoid being late I left early, the trip was quicker than I expected. I arrived with time to spare. I took the book and the highlighter with me and enjoyed a solid 45 minutes of reading with no distractions. I recalled the second saying about elephants.

It was time well spent, some of the lessons in the book made me realise how much work I still need to do on myself in accepting that some things are the way they are, that they are beyond my control or power to change. Good reminders of the value of the stoic philosophy.

I take some satisfaction from having survived dangerous situations and overcoming severe adversity a few times in my life. I have written about some of them in earlier posts. But the book made me realise that I am still guilty of wasting time and raising my blood pressure on smaller annoyances that are really not that important in the overall scheme of things. Ones that are not worth thinking about and not worth trying to change. A typical case of worrying about the ants and not giving enough attention to the elephants, stampeding or not.

Thankfully, I am more insulated from the usual small, daily irritants than most. I am grateful that I work from my rural home, do not have to commute and rarely drive in big cities. That means I am not tempted to comment on the displays of bad driving that other people seem to notice. I have removed another source of time-wasting and irritation by cancelling our satellite TV subscription. I regularly purge my email newsletter subscriptions and severely restrict the time I spend on social media.

Even with all those firewalls in place, I realised that I still let minor things capture my attention more than I should. Still worrying about the ants and not taming the elephants.


Two important lessons for me this week,

  • A reminder of the value of reading a book a second time, slowly and carefully.
  • To focus my attention on what matters not what irritates.

How good are you at ignoring the minor irritants and accepting things for what they are?

How about discerning between ants and elephants?


elephant image courtesy of tiverlucky / freedigitalphotos.net

ant image by webweaver Free clip Art

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  1 comment for “Elephants, Ants and lessons from Stoic Philosophy

  1. Roberta
    January 28, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    Sometimes I can ignore all ‘irritants.’ Sometimes not so much. But I do not worry about it. I just do what I can do in the times I have.

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