Saturday, February 9, 2019
Epictetus Discourses 1.30 - What should we have at hand that help us in difficult circumstances?
If you were to be judged by anyone or even by God, the judgement might be like an oral examination - to determine what you have learned. This would be the first point of life: did you learn something?
One of the first questions of the examination would be about how you judged certain things. What did you think of: exile, imprisonment, chains, death and disgrace. In the context of 2018-2019, that list seems pretty harsh. Who of my peers and friends has been sent to exile? Who has been sent to prison? Who is in chains? Who has died ... well, plenty have died, but what did they think about death? And who, of my peers in 2018-2019, is disgraced? What do these terms means in a post-modern society? Let's examine them.
What does exile look like in corporate America? Perhaps it looks like what happened to Steve Jobs in 1985. "They basically stripped Jobs of responsibilities and gave him an office that he referred to as 'Siberia.'" Similarly, today, we could be stripped of authority and the ability to make change in a company - our ranking could tank.
What does imprisonment look like? Well, we still have prisons in 2018, but I think the idea implies being imprisoned unjustly - when you are actually innocent. Rubin "Hurricane" Carter lived this. Or perhaps we have been sentenced to a different kind of prison.
Do people actually wear chains in today? Physically - maybe not. Chains are simply devices that restrict our body. Perhaps an illness casts a certain sort of chain on our bodies.
Disgrace has lasted well through time - people were disgraced centuries ago and they are still disgraced today. In fact, the current President of the United States has used 'disgrace' multiple times in his first few years in office - firing cabinet members and staff at a whim. At my company, I have seen a few examples of people who have fallen from grace.
Now - do any of these things really matter? Or should we view them as "indifferents"? If you were to pass the examination by God, you would need to view them as indifferents. Indifferents are things that should not matter to you or me. And why do they not matter? Because these are things that are not in your control or my control.
Therefore, what should matter to you? Focusing on things that you can control is what should matter to you. And what can you control? You can control your will and your impressions (your attitude).
Lastly, God might ask, "what is the goal of life?" And if you can honestly respond with "to follow God" or "to love my fate", then you may have passed the examination. And that is the point of it all.
I thought part of the text of this chapter was so succinct and worth reading, I've copied it below.
What did you call exile, imprisonment, chains, death, and dishonour in your school?
These I called matters of indifference.
So what do you call them on the present occasion? Have they changed in any way?
No they haven't.
And have you yourself changed?
Tell me, then, what is meant by matters of indifference, and what follows from that?
They're things that lie outside the sphere of choice, and they're nothing to me.
Tell me further, what were the things that you regarded as being "goods"?
The right exercise of choice and right use of impressions.
And what is the end?
To follow God.