Thursday, November 5, 2015

Stoic Week #4

Thursday, November 5, 2015
Some things are under our control, while others are not under our control. Under our control are conception [the way we define things], intention [the voluntary impulse to act], desire [to get something], aversion [the desire to avoid something], and, in a word, everything that is our own doing; not under our control are our body, our property, reputation, position [or office] in society, and, in a word, everything that is not our own doing. (Epictetus, Handbook 1)

Epictetus, I think, is saying that we choose how we describe the world to ourselves. We filter reality through our unique template, our master for how the world is put together and works. We can choose the stencil that we use.

We can choose how we plan and proceed. We can decide to delay, but we should be careful that we have rational reasons for doing so since procrastination comes out of unreasonable fears and demands the world be such and such a way.

Desire and aversion can be both natural to us – I hate having sticky fingers, I like the color yellow. But the attitude we adopt, our wanting and avoiding are our power. We had better not allow greed, anger, and lust to gain footholds.

We have no power over our station in society. A series of bad moves, a string bad luck can strip us of everything we find important. Losing everything or nearly everything or everything we think important may not be a likely or probable prospect. But the consequences could be great, if we allow anger and anxiety to rule our attitude about losing.

Our reputation is totally under the control of other people. We can’t control what other people think of us. What people think of us, then, is none of our business. And had better not be worried about.  As for property, ask any homeowner if she controls her property and she’ll “If only.” Water – mere water – is the enemy. 

Also, property can be stolen by thieves or seized by authority. It can even be destroyed by mistake – witness the homeowners who’ve gone on vacation, only to return to find their houses demolished because a developer got an address wrong. Stuff has a tendency to rule people – witness hoarders or widowers who resist tossing anything related to the deceased wife. 

Better not to own anything.

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