Monday, July 8, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 4.2 - On association with others

Recovering alcoholics often face a decision about their "old" friends or drinking buddies.  How can someone who is trying to stay sober, be hanging out with old drinking buddies at bars, while at the same time avoiding the temptation to have a drink?  It's nigh impossible.  Often, the best solution is to avoid the old friends.

This same concept is applied in many other areas of our life.  It is fleshed out in an excellent article I read recently called Catching Desires: Can you stop yourself being infected with other people's desires? by Bence Nanay.  So while we learned from Epictetus, in the last blog post, about how to go about minimizing our desires, we still are tasked, as Stoics, to interact with society every day.  As we do so, we need to be mindful about with whom we frequently associate.

"Never become so intimately associated with any of your former friends or acquaintances that you sink down to the same level as them; for otherwise, you'll destroy yourself." (v. 1, p. 327)

But what if I'm accused of being stand-offish or conceited by my old friends?

"Choose, then, which you prefer: to be held in the same affection as before by your former friends by remaining as you used to be, or else become better than you were and no longer meet with the same affection." (v. 3, p. 237)

A term I often hear these days, that applies this same idea, is "drawing boundaries."  The Stoics might even call it "circumscribing the self."  You can be kind and respectful to people, but you don't have adopt their choices or live like they do.  You be who you decide to be and let others decide how they should be.

Epictetus uses drinking alcohol as another example about how we need to choose with whom we are going to associate.  "Choose, then, whether you want to be a heavy drinker and pleasing to them [your drinking buddies], or a sober man and unpleasing to them." (v. 7, p. 237)

But decide, you must!  If you waffle and are "caught between two paths, you'll incur a double penalty, since you'll neither make progress as you ought nor acquire the things that you used to enjoy." (v. 5, p. 237)  You have to choose a philosophy and live it.  And some philosophies are like oil and water which don't mix - you have to choose between one of them.  "Roles as different as these don't mix." (v. 10, p. 238).

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