The Enchiridion Part Four

When you set about any action, remind yourself what nature the action is.

OPENING
I am A Man of Letters. I’ve been reading lately, and I have found some words I would like to share. Today, The Enchiridion by Epictetus. Part Four…

BODY

When you set about any action, remind yourself what nature the action is. If you are going to bathe, represent to yourself the incidents usual in the bath – some persons splashing, others jostling, others scolding, others stealing. And thus you will more safely go about this action, if you say to yourself, “I will now go bathe, and keep my own will in harmony with nature.” And so with regard to every other action. For thus, if any impediment arises in bathing, you will be able to say, “It was not only to bathe that I desired, but to keep my will in harmony with nature; and I shall not keep it thus, if I am out of humor at things that happen.”

COMMENTARY
That is what Epictetus said. Here is what I say.

Stoicism suggests we do not contribute to bad behavior, but that we likewise do not pout and shriek when we see it. I am responsible for my own actions, and I am able to instruct another, but I cannot control another. If it is another’s nature to do wrong, then that is his nature and I cannot instruct him. It could be that another man will instruct him in ways I cannot, or that no one will. In the end, I must not be surprised that bad things happen. Keeping a record of the wrongs of others is not my natural task.

When our actions achieve our goal, very good. When external forces hinder us in achieving our goal, but we keep our own minds in a state conformable to nature, we need not be bothered.

Not all circumstances can be endured equally by all, but the circumstances that are beyond our ability to endure are few.

What benefit do you gain by being disturbed about that which is inevitable?

In The Discourses, Epictetus has this to say…

When anything shall be reported to you which is of a nature to disturb, have this principle in readiness: that the news is about nothing which is within the power of your will. Can any man report to you that you have formed a bad opinion, or had a bad desire? By no means. But perhaps he will report that some person is dead. What then is that to you? He may report that some person speaks ill of you. What then is that to you? […] Well then, is the judge free from danger? No; but he also is in equal danger. Why then are you still afraid of his decision? What have you to do with that which is another man’s evil? It is your own evil to make a bad defense: be on your guard against this only. But to be condemned or not to be condemned, as that is the act of another person, so it is the evil of another person. “A certain person threatens you.” Me? No. “He blames you.” Let him see how he manages his own affairs. “He is going to condemn you unjustly.” He is a wretched man.

“[My] mother laments when she does not see me.” Why has she not learned these principles? I do not say that we should not take care that she may not lament, but I say that we ought not to desire in every way what is not our own. And the sorrow of another is another’s sorrow: but my sorrow is my own. I, then, will stop my own sorrow by every means, for it is in my power: and the sorrow of another I will endeavor to stop as far as I can; but I will not attempt to do it by every means; for if I do, I shall be fighting against Nature, I shall be opposing and shall be placing myself against Nature in the administration of the universe; and the reward of this fighting against Nature and of this disobedience not only will the children of my children pay, but I also shall myself, both by day and by night, startled by dreams, perturbed, trembling at every piece of news, and having my tranquillity depending on the letters of others.

It is your duty then, since you are come here, to say what you ought, to arrange these things as it is fit. Then some one says, “I shall charge you with doing me wrong.” Much good may it do you: I have done my part; but whether you also have done yours, you must look to that.

What then are the things which are heavy on us and disturb us? What else but opinions? What else but opinions lies heavy upon him who goes away and leaves his companions and friends and places and habits of life? Now little children, for instance, when they cry on the nurse leaving them for a short time, forget their sorrow if they receive a small cake. [By] Zeus, I do not wish to be pacified by a small cake, but by right opinions. And what are these? Such as a man ought to study all day, and not to be affected by anything that is not his own, neither by companion nor place nor exercise, and not even by his own body, but to remember the law and to have it before his eyes. And what is Nature’s law? To keep ones own, not to claim that which belongs to others, but to use what is given, and when it is not given, not to desire it; and when a thing is taken away, to give it up readily and immediately, and to be thankful for the time that a man has had the use of it, if you would not cry for your nurse and mother.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Four of The Enchiridion

When you set about any action, remind yourself what nature the action is. If you are going to bathe, represent to yourself the incidents usual in the bath – some persons splashing, others jostling, others scolding, others stealing. And thus you will more safely go about this action, if you say to yourself, “I will now go bathe, and keep my own will in harmony with nature.” And so with regard to every other action. For thus, if any impediment arises in bathing, you will be able to say, “It was not only to bathe that I desired, but to keep my will in harmony with nature; and I shall not keep it thus, if I am out of humor at things that happen.”

CLOSING
Thank you for listening. For more information about the words I have read and the music to follow, please visit A Man of Letters. amoletters.com.

Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.

MUSIC
Cliff Edwards – Just a Night for Medidation (Columbia 1609D 1928)

Episode 1604