Roman Calendar

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Of Preferences and Aversion" (from "Greeks to Geeks")

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century:

"Of Preferences and Aversion:
I Want Want Want it, but I Don't Need Need Need it!

Epictetus: 'Remember that following desire promises the attainment of that of which you are desirous, and version promises the avoiding that to which you are averse. However, he who fails to obtain the object of his desire is disappointed, and he who incurs the object of his aversion wretched. If, then, you confine your aversion to those objects only which are contrary to the natural use of your faculties, which you have in your own control, you will never incur anything to which you are averse. But if you are averse to sickness, or death, or poverty, you will be wretched. Remove aversion, then, from all things contrary to the nature of what is in our control, and transfer it to things contrary to the nature of what is in our control. But, for the present, totally suppress desire: for, if you desire any of the things which are not in your own control, you must necessarily be disappointed; and of those which are, and which it is laudable to desire, nothing is yet in your possession. Use only the appropriate actions of pursuit and avoidance; and even these lightly, and with gentleness and reservation.'

. . . What Epictetus is saying here is that if you place your preferences and aversions on things outside of your power, you will naturally be unhappy, because your happiness is determined by whether or not you get what you desire, and avoid what you are averse to. And when outside forces are determining whether or not you get what you want, you will, eventually, be disappointed. Therefore, he says, prefer and move away from things within your power only, and reserve a kind of indifference to everything else . . .

It is suggested in Stoicism, in regard to external things, both desirable and undesirable, that they should be approached with a kind of indifference or apathy. This is not a negative indifference or apathy, though these words have gained quite a negative reputation, these are of the positive kind. The Stoic will still move naturally in the direction of that which they like and which is an external 'good' (health, wealth, good relationships, good reputation, etc.), just as they will as much as they can move away from that which they don't like, an external 'bad' (illness, poverty, bad relationships, a poor reputation, etc.). But the key point is that should either fortune or misfortune strike, it will be viewed with the sort of indifference that would be shown to anything outside the Stoic's control. They enjoy good fortune, but no more than it deserves, and they do not take credit for gains acquired from outside forces. Stoics do not reject wealth, power, property, status, or good reputation, they just don't need it. If it comes, it comes, if it doesn't, it doesn't.

. . . If you can stay pretty much the same and at peace in good circumstance and bad you will know that you are a Stoic."

I think Healey masterfully states some of the core ethics of Stoicism in very simple terms, here!

Monday, May 19, 2014

"For How Much Lettuce is Sold" (from "Greeks to Geeks")

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century:

"For How Much is Lettuce Sold: The Little Epictetus Inside Your Head

Epictetus: 'Is anyone preferred before you at an entertainment, or in a compliment, or in being admitted to a consultation? If these things are good, you ought to be glad that he has gotten them; and if they are evil, don't be grieved that you have not gotten them. And remember that you cannot, without using the same means [which others do] to acquire things not in our own control, expect to be thought worthy of an equal share of them. For how can he who does not frequent the door of any [great] man, does not attend him, does not praise him, have an equal share with him who does? You are unjust then, and insatiable, if you are unwilling to pay the price for which these things are sold, and would have them for nothing. For how much is lettuce sold? Fifty cents, for instance. If another, then, paying fifty cents, takes the lettuce, and you, not paying it, go without them, don't imagine that he has gained any advantage over you. For as he has the lettuce, so you have the fifty cents which you did not give. So, in the present case, you have not been invited to such a person's entertainment, because you have not paid him the price for which a supper is sold. It is sold for praise; it is sold for attendance. Give him then the value, if it is for your advantage. But if you would, at the same time, not pay the one and yet receive the other, you are insatiable, and a blockhead. Have you nothing, then, instead of the supper? Yes, indeed you have: the not praising him, whom you don't like to praise; the not bearing with his behaviour at coming in.'

This passage describes yet another way we often torment ourselves needlessly. It's basically the idea of having your cake and eating it too.
 . . .
In all your dealings with the world there is an exchange, a compromise . . . But once you have made your choices, look at, and be happy with what you have gained, or retained, and don't lust after having both or you will be miserable.
 . . .
Don't forget what you have, and what it would cost to have what another is in possession of, nothing comes for free, there is always a price to pay be it in money, time, or lifestyle choices. So often we get carried away by the appearance of things, especially in regard to jealousy and envy, but always remember that everything comes with a cost."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

"As A Mark Is Not Set Up To Be Missed" (from "Greeks to Geeks")

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century:

"As A Mark Is Not Set Up To Be Missed

Epictetus: 'As a mark is not set up for the sake of missing the aim, so neither does the nature of evil exist in the world.'

What Epictetus is saying is that not once during the entire history of human kind has a person done the wrong thing on purpose . . . Even if a person decided to act . . . against their personal feeling and the available information, they would still be acting in accordance to what they think is best at the time. Even if they are doing their worst on purpose, it's still what they have willingly chosen to do. It is quite simply impossible to choose to do the wrong thing according to your own standards, opinions, and beliefs at the time of choosing. Even those historical figures who have instigated or personally taken part in horrendous crimes, have at the time of undertaking, been absolutely sure that it was the right course of action, or even if they had their doubts, it was still, to them, the best thing they could do at the time with the information that was available to them. Therefore Epictetus argues that there is no evil, or that no one has ever decided to do an evil thing. This of course does not justify these horrible acts, the Gulags of the Soviet Union come to mind, or the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge, or the Death Camps of the Nazis. Despicable as these atrocities are it must be accepted that those who created these systems, at one time at least, thought them to be noble and necessary ideas, or at very least the lesser of available evils. The concept of evil is entirely subjective and although people can do acts which are perceived as evil, the person as a whole cannot be evil . . .

This is not to say that everyone should go out and do horrible things and take no responsibility, quite the opposite in fact, we should take full responsibility for our deeds and to that end should take more care in choosing which course of action to take . . . "

This is one of the hardest doctrines of Stoicism for beginners, I think - the concept that nobody chooses evil. Almost everyone, I think, has enemies at some point in their lives, and almost everyone wishes to ascribe evil motivations to their enemies. But following a tradition begun by Socrates, the Stoics demand that we look closely at our enemies and realize that while they do not wish us well when they seek to harm us, they are under the mistaken impression that attempting to harm us is the right thing for them to do. We should pity their ignorance rather than hate their evil.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"Sickness is a Hindrance of the Body" (from "Greeks to Geeks")

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century:

"Sickness is a Hindrance of the Body: You Always Have a Choice

Epictetus: 'Sickness is a hindrance to the body, but not to your ability to choose, unless that is your choice. Lameness is a hindrance to the leg, but not to your ability to choose. Say this to yourself with regard to everything that happens, then you will see such obstacles as hindrances to something else, but not to yourself.'"

That last part is important - your SELF, your Ruling Faculty, is not the same as your body. Something can hinder your leg, but not affect YOU. You are your Ruling Faculty, you are your own ability to choose. You are your soul, so to speak.

"Don't  give up your Ruling Faculty, always consider what you are presented with carefully, and make the best decision from the choices available to you at the time.

Epictetus 'Remember that not he who gives ill language or a blow, insults, but the principle which represents these things as insulting. When, therefore, anyone provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you. Try, therefore, in the first place, not to be hurried away with the appearance. For if you once gain time and respite, you will more easily command yourself.'

Here Epictetus is using the same theory, that it is not the event but our opinions about the event that create our reaction to the event, to describe how it is possible to not go into things rashly in a knee-jerk way. So often when we are insulted, or something unforeseen and unfortunate happens, we go ahead and do something stupid that we later regret, often because we have misunderstood what has happened, or we were missing some important piece of information."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Death is not terrible" (from "Greeks to Geeks")

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century:

"Death is not terrible: Else it would have appeared so to Socrates

Epictetus: 'Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things. Death, for instance, is not terrible, else it would have appeared so to Socrates. But the terror consists in our notion of death that it is terrible. When therefore we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never attribute it to others, but to ourselves; that is, to our own principles. An uninstructed person will lay the fault of his own bad condition upon others. Someone just starting instruction will lay the fault on himself. Someone who is perfectly instructed will place blame neither on others nor on himself.'

Basically what Epictetus is saying here is pretty obvious stuff, death is one of the most important, and of course inevitable aspects of all life in the natural world, and being so could surely not be something to be worried about, for if it were, as Epictetus says, it would have appeared so to Socrates . . . So many of us spend our lives in fear, afraid of death and so become afraid of life, lose the fear of death and so become afraid of life, lose the fear of death and life can become much more pleasant. Your opinion is the most powerful tool you possess, and your choice is your only true freedom."

Monday, May 12, 2014

"It's Not The Accident" (from "Greeks to Geeks")

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century:

"It's Not The Accident

Epictetus: 'When you see anyone weeping in grief because his son has gone abroad, or is dead, or because he has suffered in his affairs, be careful that the appearance may not misdirect you. Instead, distinguish within your own mind, and be prepared to say, 'It's not the accident that distresses this person, because it doesn't distress another person; it is the judgment which he makes about it.' As far as words go, however, don't reduce yourself to his level, and certainly do not moan with him. Do not moan inwardly either.'
. . .
Epictetus: 'The will of nature may be learned from those things in which we don't distinguish from each other. For example, when our neighbour's  boy breaks a cup, or the like, we are presently ready to say, 'These things will happen.' Be assured, then, that when your own cup likewise is broken, you ought to be affected just as when another's cup was broken. Apply this in like manner to greater things. Is the child or wife of another dead? There is no one who would not say, 'This is a human accident.' But if anyone's own child happens to die, it is presently, 'Alas how wretched am I!' But it should be remembered how we are affected in hearing the same thing concerning others.'
. . .
It is always your choice how you react to events.

Imagine the respite from stress and emotional pain you would gain from being able to treat your own misfortunes with the same, or similar degree of indifference that you would feel toward something that had happened to someone else.
. . .
Because the process of event, opinion, reaction is so quick, it is very difficult to change your opinions in real time . . ."

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

"With Regard to the Things You Love . . ." (from "Greeks to Geeks")

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks:Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century:

"With Regard to the Things You Love: Ceramic Cups and Kissing

Epictetus: 'With regard to whatever objects give you delight, are useful, or are deeply loved, remember to tell yourself of what general nature they are, beginning from the most insignificant things. If, for example, you are fond of a specific ceramic cup, remind yourself that it is only ceramic cups in general of which you are fond. Then, if it  breaks, you will not be disturbed. If you kiss your child, or your wife, say that you only kiss things which are human, and thus you will not be disturbed if either of them dies.'

OK, Epictetus, we get it, don't be sad if our wife or child dies, no problem. A little harsh maybe, but let's look at the idea behind this logic and start with something a little easier like those ceramic cups he was talking about.

The point here is that if you place a great deal of attachment onto something which is outside of your control, you are setting yourself up to take one heck of a fall. This is quite a radical idea in this age of materialism, where people pride themselves on their physical possessions, their collections, their cars, houses, gadgets, clothes, and even our relationships. Let's hear that last sentence again; we 'pride OURSELVES on our physical possessions', so if our worth to ourselves and what we project to others is reliant on a physical item, what happens when that item breaks, is stolen, or lost? Depression happens, rage happens, violence can happen.
 . . .

This is an example of retaining logic, and dignity, during a crisis. Once something has happened, you cannot go back and change it, you do though have the power to choose how you will react and behave afterwards. If you follow the Stoic logic to its end, asking, is it within my power? Have I been harmed by this? Did I choose for this to happen? Have I embarrassed myself? If you ask these questions and answer them honestly, you will always keep your dignity in tough situations and you will be free of the excess pain, worry, and rage that is often the first impulse when something like this happens.
 . . .

If we place our own innate, human worth onto an external item, place, or person, we are disempowering ourselves completely, we become a slave to that which we have placed our worth onto."

Monday, May 5, 2014

"The Importance of Distinguishing" (from "Greeks to Geeks")

"The Importance of Distinguishing " from Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century

"Epictetus: Work, therefore, to be able to say to every harsh appearance, 'You are but an appearance, and not absolutely the thing you appear to be.' And then examine it by those rules which you have, and first, and chiefly, by this: whether it concerns the things which are in our own control, or those which are not; and, if it concerns anything not in our own control, be prepared to say that it is nothing to you.
. . .
Epictetus is saying to us that if something is not within our power we have the right, or indeed the obligation, to say that it is nothing to us. If there is nothing we can do about something, what is the point in worrying? . . . You will find that in any circumstance you always have some power, to influence your opinion, and to make choices."

The ability to distinguish what is and is not in our power is perhaps the most important skill a Stoic learns, for everything hinges on the ability to make this critical distinction.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

"The Self Esteem Trap" from "Greeks to Geeks"

From Rohan Healey's Greeks to Geeks: Practical Stoicism for the 21st Century

"The Self Esteem Trap
 . . .
Epictetus: 'The things in our control are by their nature free, unrestrained, and unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you will not be harmed."

Healey, using Epictetus, here examines how little importance a Stoic should place on things outside the control one's own control. He quotes Dr. Albert Ellis, founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (who based it on Stoic philosophical concepts), as saying "Self-esteem is the greatest sickness known to man or woman because it's conditional." Healey explains, "If you place your sense of value as a human being, your sense of self-worth, on something that lies outside your control, you are asking for trouble. If your sense of self-love relies on outside conditions you are giving away all of your power."

So what is self-esteem? Healey says, "True self-esteem is the confidence you gain when you know what is actually within your power, and by mastering and utilizing this knowledge." True self - esteem, then, is based on what is in our control - opinion, pursuit, desire, and aversion - the "Ruling Faculty" of Epictetus. This Ruling Faculty "is simply our ability to form opinions, to have beliefs, to reminisce about the past and to project into the future."