Monday, January 7, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 1.19 - How should we behave towards tyrants

This is an interesting chapter, especially if viewed in the context of modern-day corporate society, in which many of us make a living.

Vice presidents, executives, managers, divisional managers ... all of them wield power and authority.  But we fail to realize that the only power and authority they have is what we give them.  That power only exists in our own mind.  The power and authority is not real; not in the slightest.

Epictetus cuts right to the chase.  The only real power is the power of controlling our desires and aversions and our impulse control; in short, self-discipline (see verses 2-4).

And how should we view authority figures at work and in government?  We ought give them attention like we give our dishes or pets attention.  It is a necessity that has to be done; we do what we need to do, but nothing else.  The dishes are dirty, we wash them.  The horse needs to be groomed; we groom it.  There is no need to bow or show deferential treatment to them.  I think we can observe protocol if warranted, but we must be very wary of thinking they have more power or authority than us.

But those managers and bosses can fire you!  They can cut your pay!  Good point; then I'll watch out for them and perform my own due diligence like I would with anti-virus shots.  I'll do what I must for my own self-care, but I don't have to make my whole life dependent on them.  Soon, they will be retired, they will forget about you - they'll be golfing, going on vacations, put into a retirement home and soon, dead.

"For when the [president, VP, manager] says to someone, 'I'll [fire you, cut your pay, excommunicate you]' one who attaches value to his [job, position, membership] will reply, 'No, have pity on me,' while one who attaches value, by contrast, to his choice will say, 'If you think that will do any good, [fire away]'

To which, the president or VP or manager might say, "You don't care?" And you can respond, "Not in the least."  And the tyrant might say, 'I'll show you that I am [the president, VP, general authority].'

And then you respond, "How will you do that?  Zeus has set me free.  Do you really suppose that he would allow his own son to be turned into a slave?  You're master of my carcass, take that."  (see v. 8-10, p. 44).

Later, Epictetus talks about sacrifices and offerings to gods.  And he asks a really poignant question, "Yet who has ever offered up a sacrifice because his desires are rightly directed?  Or because his motives are in accord with nature?  For we offer up thanks to the gods for those things in which we place our good" (v. 25, p. 46).

Let this be your guide for having the proper attitude in dealing with "people of authority."

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