Friday, April 26, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 3.4 - To one who took sides in the theatre in an undignified manner

In our last local Stoic meetup, the topic of sports came up - playing sports, as well as rooting for the home team or for your favorite team.  Many people are competitive and have the drive and motivation to win.  Some want it more than others and in some cases, those people may cheat or use every possible method under the rules, to win.  And when some people lose (or if the team they are cheering on loses), they get into the foulest of moods.  I used to be this way.

Eventually, I learned what Epictetus taught the governor.  The governor went to the theater and was wildly cheering on "Sophron" (whoever that is ... I don't know the full context of this; perhaps it was a gladiator or some stand-up comic).  And when the people under his rule started yelling at the governor and verbally abusing him, he got all upset!

Epictetus explains to him that since the people saw him acting all wildly at the contest, they figured they could do the same.  But the governor was being selfish and basically could not take what he was willing to dish out.  He was so upset, he was contemplating punishing them.  Epictetus tell him it would be absurd to punish the people for acting as they did.  If Zeus punished people every time they verbally abused him, "he would have nobody left to rule!" (v. 8, p. 152).

No, the solution is not punishment or silencing people you disagree with.  Rather, when it comes to sports, either as a participant or an observer, you should remember to "keep [your] faculty of choice in accord with nature." And you should say to yourself, "No one is dearer to me than myself; it would be absurd that I should do harm to myself to enable another man to win a victory." (v. 10, p. 152).

I've learned, when it comes to playing and watching basketball, to do as Epictetus taught those going to the public bath.

When you're about to embark on any action, remind yourself what kind of action it is.  If you're going out to take a bath, set before your mind the things that happen at baths, that people will splash you, that people knock up against you, that people steal from you.  And you'll thus undertake the action in a surer manner if you say to yourself at the outset, 'I want to take a bath and ensure at the same time that my choice remains in harmony with nature.'  And follow the same course in every action that you embark on.  So if anything gets in your way while you're taking a bath, you'll be ready to tell yourself, 'Well, this wasn't the only think that I wanted to do [bathe], but I also wanted to keep my choice in harmony with nature; and I won't keep it if I get annoyed at what is happening.'"  (Handbook Chapter 4, p. 288)

And so when I am on my way to play basketball, I tell myself that I will miss shots, make bad passes and my team will lose.  But I am honestly there to exercise, not to win a championship.  I will be successful if I try hard, stay in the game mentally, and be a good team player.  I will also accomplish burning calories and get a temporary high from the social aspects of the game.  Ever since I started doing this (for the last 3-4 years), almost 100% of the time, I leave the gym very happy and content.

I apply the same line of thinking when I'm cheering for "my team" whether they be the Texans, Astros, Rockets or Cougars or the Mustangs.  I know, that the odds are stacked against most teams I root for.  Out of all the teams I have cheered for over the last 30 years, only three teams have won a championship.  Despite winning seasons, I know that almost all the time, 'my team' will ultimately lose.  It is a fact that the odds of winning for most teams, is really low.  Most of the time, we are all cheering on losers.

And so I've shifted my mindset from "wanting, really badly, my team to WIN!" to "oh, wow, this game (or season), has been really entertaining for me to watch.  And no matter who wins, I recognize that watching my team play has been a nice distraction.  Win or lose, it's been fun!"  And of course, if my team is doing horribly, I always reserve the right to turn the TV off or stop watching.

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