Sunday, March 25, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 19

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.

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.

"If a [VP, manager, executive] threatens to [fire you, cut your pay], whoever holds his [pay, job] in high regard will beg for mercy, whereas the person who cares more for his character will answer back, 'Go ahead and [fire me, cut my pay], if that's what you want.'"

To which someone might ask, "And you don't care?"

And my response is, "I don't care.  I may have to pretend to care in front of people who value these kinds of things, but my sense of self-respect does not depend on their opinion.  I only do this so I can help my wife and children eat, sleep and go to school.  When the time comes that they can fend for themselves, I'll no longer need to pretend.  But as for now, I'll give VPs, managers and bosses the same respect and attention I give my dishes" (see verses 8-10).

Later, Epictetus talks about sacrifices and offerings to gods.  And he asks a really poignant question, "Now who, I ask you, has ever offered a sacrifice for right desires, or for impulses in agreement with nature?  We only thank the gods, it seems, for what we popularly supposes are the good things in life" (verse 25).

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

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