Sunday, January 6, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 1.18 - That we should not be angry with those who do wrong

How should we view and deal with thieves and robbers?  How do you react and think about immoral people?

Someone poses this question to Epictetus: "So this thief here and this adulterer should be put to death?"

Epictetus responds, "Not at all, but what you should be asking instead is this: 'This man who has fallen into error and is mistaken about the most important mater, and thus has gone blind, not with regard to the eyesight that distinguishes white from black, but with regard to the judgement that distinguishes good from bad - should someone like this be put to death?'"  He compares the loss of moral capacity with loss of seeing or hearing and he asks if we should execute the deaf and blind?  If someone loses the capacity to be moral, Epictetus views this as similar to the loss of a sense.  Should we execute someone who is blind?  No!  Similarly, should we execute someone who's ability to make moral choices is lost?  No!

But I will say, how do you determine the difference between someone who has lost their moral ability and someone who knows right from wrong, but still chooses to be immoral?  That's a tough question.

Interestingly enough, while working one day, I happened to have the TV on and the Today Show with Megyn Kelly aired a segment about mothers dealing with children who have brain disorders - the very kind that prevents them from making moral or empathetic choices.  It's an interesting segment to watch and should give you pause when you are quick to "hate and take offence" (see verse 9).  The Today Show segment is called "Mothers Open Up About Concerns For Their Children With Brain Disorders" and it aired today, March 22, 2018.

He also instructs us that we should not be angry with people who may lack the ability for moral capacity, but instead we should pity them (see v. 9, p. 42).

Epictetus then goes on to discuss how we need to not place our desires in things that can be robbed from us.  He goes so far as to say that a tyrant can chain us up, and lop off our head, but the tyrant can never take our integrity from us.

How do we get to be this resilient?  "Know yourself.  So what follows?  That we should practice, by heaven, with little things, and after beginning with those, pass on to greater things.  'I've got a headache.'  Don't give expression to grief.  'I've got an earache.'  Don't give expression to grief.  And I'm not saying that you shouldn't groan at such things, but that you shouldn't groan in your inmost self" (v. 17-19, p. 43).

"Who, then, is the invincible human being?  One who can be disconcerted by nothing that lies outside the sphere of choice."  She or he is capable of overcoming, bearing and enduring without complaint, the heat, the cold, the allure of money (greed) and beautiful people (lust), darkness, glory or fame, abuse, praise and is even not afraid of death.  To overcome all; to not let any of these things have sway over you; that is what becoming invincible means.

In summary, test yourself.  Allow yourself to get into the mindset of constantly being tested and then work to win at those tests - to be the better man!  To quote one of my favorite Rocky lines, "How much can you take, and keep moving forward!  That's how winning is done!"


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