Stoic Interlude

Epictetus is not on the first year reading list, though I think he probably should be. I had an experience tonight that makes me think of this quote.

“Can any profit be derived from these men? Aye, from all.

“‘What, even from a reviler?’

“Why, tell me what profit a wrestler gains from him who exercises him beforehand? The very greatest: he trains me in the practice of endurance, of controlling my temper, of gentle ways. You deny it. What, the man who lays hold of my neck, and disciplines loins and shoulders, does me good,…while he that trains me to keep my temper does me none? This is what it means, not know how to gain advantage from men! Is my neighbor bad? Bad to himself, but good to me: he brings my good temper, my gentleness into play. Is my father bad? Bad to himself, but good to me. This is the rod of Hermes, touch what you will with it, they say, and it becomes gold. Nay, but bring hat you will and I will transmut eit into Good. Bring sickness, bring death, bring poverty and reproach, bring trial for lief — all these thing though the rod of Hermes shall be turned to profit.”

I had a run in with some difficult people at a jazz concert on the lawn, and nearly took a guy to the ground — I had hold of him in such a way that I could have done it — but instead held my temper. It was the right thing to do, and I dealt with the situation through words. But despite the nearly overwhleming desire I had to punch the guy, I was trained to hold my temper and not do the wrong thing.

This does not mean that I don’t think it is ever wrong to punch someone or take them to the ground. It just means that in this particular case, dropping some drunk guy was not the right thing to do. So, I have learned a good lesson and realized that in a tense situation, I can make the right the choice. I learned and will take the lesson forward. Next time, there might be a punch involved or not, but I now have more experience to judge situations.

Regardless, I think the Epictetus can benefit a lot of people in this world. He provides examples and advice on how to live that are quite practical, even more than 2,000 years later. Whether that shows how little progress we made or how the human condition endures is a question for another time.

More Epictetus to come….


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