Monday, October 28, 2013

Practical Advice from Epictetus

Epictetus's Handbook is a practical guide about how to live your life. In #3, he reminds us not to get too attached to the things and people that we love.  The things we love will not last forever.  He thinks that if we remember this fact and keep it in mind, we will not be sad when things break or people die.  In fact, Epictetus thinks we should think about death and other terrible things every day (#21).  He thinks that reminding yourself about how crappy things could be will help you to feel better about how things are now.  If you want to stop wanting more out of life, just read stuff like the front page of an international news site or a Cormac McCarthy novel.  But don't feel sad about these things!  Only our judgments about things are upsetting.  The things themselves are not upsetting (#5).

If you are going to do something, keep in mind just what kind of thing you are doing (#4).  For example, if you are going to drive on the freeway, you should keep in mind that certain things tend to happen when you drive on the freeway.  Some people drive at speeds close to or faster than 100 mph.  Some change lanes without signalling.  Some don't notice their exit until the last minute and have to swerve over lanes of traffic in order to make it.  When you drive on the freeway, be aware that these are the kinds of things that happen when driving on the freeway.  Control yourself and focus on your own actions.  Do not be upset when others do the things that you probably should expect them to do.  Of course, driving on the freeway is quite different in CA than it is in MN or Austria.

Epictetus encourages self control, endurance and patience (#10).  If a friend is sad, you should 'sympathize with him verbally', but be careful not to share his emotions (#16).  Epictetus also thinks that when someone abuses us or insults us, this cannot actually harm us.  Only our belief that they are insulting or harmful is what harms us (#20).  In fact, a bad act only harms the person who is performing it, since they must be performing it based upon a false belief about what is good or bad to do (#42).  Indeed, this is not a morality designed for judging others.  Epictetus suggests avoiding judgments like, "She drinks too much." or "He bathes poorly." and instead replacing them with, "She drinks a great deal." or "He bathes very infrequently." (#45).  He also thinks that you are not responsible for your wealth or eloquence, so you should not thinks that these things make you superior (#44).  He also reminds us it is better to act based on your own principles rather than to merely talk about your principles (#46). The goal of the Handbook is not to judge others but to fix your own life.  Blaming others is not part of the good life, according to Epictetus.


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