Saturday, February 23, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.6 - About indifference

Discourses 2.6 feels like a continuation of 2.5, in that he continues to talk about things that should be indifferent to us.

"Life is indifferent, but the use that one makes of it is not" (v. 1, p. 81).

If you recall from 2.5, Epictetus distinguishes between the platform and equipment from what we do on the platform and with the equipment.  One of the best examples I can think of that demonstrates this concept is found in Ender's Game.  If you're not familiar with the book or movie, I'm sure you can find a good summary of them on Wikipedia or YouTube.  Ender Wiggins is sent to battle school.  In the school, the students practice war games.  Virtually everything is done to make it un-fair for Ender.  But he consistently controls the one thing he can: his attitude.  The platform (the battle school, as well as the practice battle ground) are indifferent to him.  By use of creativity and team work, he is able to use the seemingly un-fair disadvantages thrown at him, to his advantage.  Also, while in battle school, Ender is given a computer tablet with games on it.  Again, the tablet represents a platform that is out of his control.  Through his reasoning and creativity, he is able to learn amazing things about himself via this tablet.

So too, life is a platform.  The events in it, from traffic, accidents, illness, weather events and what other people say or do, are all things out of our control.  How we interact and use the platform to demonstrate our attitude and virtues, is what matters (virtue is the sole good).

"Always remember what is your own and what is not, and you'll never be troubled" says Epictetus (v. 8, p. 81).

We ought to work to get to the point (mentally speaking) where what happens in the universe is exactly what we wish for.  "If I, in fact, knew that illness had been decreed for me at this moment by destiny, I would welcome even that" (v. 10, p. 82).  What an amazing attitude!  Many of us wring our hands and moan about things that happen, which we interpret to be bad.  But what if the universe wanted those things to happen, in order to bring about something greater?  That is an attitude we could embrace if we so chose.  If the event is going to happen either randomly or with intent by the universe, it still is going to happen.  What's left is our choice of attitude about the event.  If we so choose to view it as fated, intended by the Universe or God, then it may change our perspective and attitude.  Alternatively, we could choose an attitude of "this sucks!  The universe is always out to get me; why try?"  But that does not seem so very productive to me, rather, "we suffer our lot with tears and groans" (v. 16, p. 82).

"Can anyone compel you to think anything other than what you want to think?" (v. 21, p. 83).  Really take the time to think about that question and decide your answer and what that means.

"Just remember the distinction that must be drawn between what is yours and what is not yours.  Never lay claim to anything that is not your own.  An orator's platform and a prison are two different places, one high and the other low; but your choice can be kept the same in either place, if you want to keep it so" (v. 24-25, p. 83).

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.5 - How greatness of mind may coexist with carefulness

Epictetus instructs us that there are things in our control and things out of our control.  The things out of our control are called externals.  These are materials for our use of our reason; they are the platform to demonstrate our virtues and attitude.  Therefore, he states, "materials are indifferent, but the use that one makes of them is by no means indifferent" (v. 1, p. 78)

How are we to interact with externals.  He gives multiple examples of how life is like something and how there are things that are in our control and things out of our control.  He was Forest Gump's mama before there was a Forest Gump!

Life is like a card game or dice ...
The dice and cards fall where they may - they are out of our control.

What is in our control is our reaction to them: "to be attentive and skillful in making use of whatever does fall, that is now my task" (v. 3, p. 78).

Life is like an ocean voyage ...
You can choose the captain, the boat and the day you set sail and even the best time to sail.  "Then a storm descends on us.  Now why should that be of any concern to me?  For my role has been completed.  This is now somebody else's business, that of the helmsman.  But now the ship begins to sink.  So what can I do?  What I can and that alone, namely, to drown without fear, without crying out, without hurling accusations against God, as one who well knows that what is born is also fated to perish.  For I am not everlasting, but a human being, a part of the whole as an hour is part of the day.  Like an hour I must come, and like an hour pass away.  So what difference does it make to me how I pass away, whether it be by drowning or a fever?  For in some way or other, pass away I must" (v. 11-14, p. 79).

Life is like a ball game ...
Ballplayers do not value the ball, but rather focus on the skills needed to excel at the sport.  "If we're anxious or nervous when we make the catch or throw, what will become of the game, and how can one maintain one's composure; how can one see what is coming next?" (v. 17, p. 79)

We don't get to choose the ball, but we do get to choose whether to play the game or not, so too in life, we don't get to choose if we are imprisoned, exiled or executed.  We don't get to choose if our wife dies and our children become orphans.  We may play with one "ball" for twenty years and then the judge takes it away and gives us another.  The excellent athlete keeps his concentration and coolness and keeps playing, despite the change in equipment.  He uses the ball, but he does not grow attached to it - the ball is just a means for demonstrating skill.

Life is like weaving...
The weaver does not make the wool; rather she makes the "best use of whatever wool she's given.  God gives you food and property, and can take them back - your whole body too.  Work with the material you are given."

You are like a foot ...
The foot can only be useful in the context of the full body.  So too, the human can only be useful and understood in the context of community and the whole universe.

It is according to nature for the foot to be cleaned, to tromp through dirt and mud to step on needles.  It is also according to nature for the foot to be amputated, if the need arises.  You want your foot to be there to do those things.  You want your foot amputated if it puts the rest of the body at risk.  You do not want a foot that says, "I cannot walk today, I'd rather soak in a tub" - especially when you need it to run the race!

Similarly, if you view yourself as part of the whole, then "it may be in the interest of the whole that you should now fall ill, now embark on a voyage and be exposed to danger, now suffer poverty, and perhaps even die before your time.  Why do you resent this then?" (v. 26, p. 80).  Humans are part of a community of gods and men - in a community - it a city - in a state - in a nation - in a world - in the universe.

In sum
"For it is impossible, while we are in a body such as ours, and in this universe that contains us, and among such companions as we have, that such things should not happen to us, some to one person and some to another.  It is thus your role to step forward and say what you ought, and to deal with these things as they turn out.  If the judge then proclaims, 'I judge you to be guilty,' you may reply, 'I wish you well.  I have fulfilled my role, it is for you to see whether you have fulfilled yours.'  For he too runs some risk: don't forget that." (v. 27-29, p. 81)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.4 - To a man who had once been caught in adultery

Adultery is defined as: voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse.

In many major religions today, adultery is considered a sin.  Epictetus appears to have the same view and he states his reasons.

"Human beings are born for fidelity, and that anyone who damages it is damaging the distinctive quality of man" (v. 1, p. 77).  In other words, humans' nature is to be rational, and one way to demonstrate that, is to be faithful to the spouse you have committed yourself to.  Anyone who attempts to destroy that fidelity is not living according to their (rational) nature.

Adultery ruins, destroys integrity and piety.  It destroys the good feelings between friends and neighbors.  It destroys trust.

An adulterer exhibits bad character and is "useless" (v. 6, p. 77).  Epictetus compares them to wasps: people run away from them and kill them if possible; since all they do is sting!

Simply put, adultery is immoral.  For Stoics, where virtue is the sole good, adultery is not virtuous, and therefore not Stoic.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.3 - To those who recommend people to philosophers

A simple analogy to make a simple point.

How do you know if the currency you have is real or not?

According to this article, there are a number of ways to determine a bill is real our counterfeit:
3D security ribbon to the left of Benjamin Franklin’s portrait visible only on the front of the bill. Holders moving the bill around should see blue Liberty Bells that change to the number 100. Depending on whether the bill is held and tilted vertically or horizontally, the images move back and forth or up and down.
Now, applied to a person: how do you know if a person is good or not?  We read about this in Discourses 2.1.  We can know if a person is good if they "never fail to attain what [they] desire, ... [they] never fall into what [they] want to avoid.  Bring death before [them] and you'll know.  Bring hardships, bring imprisonment, bring ignominy, bring condemnation" and they will view these as indifferents.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.2 - On calmness of mind

Epictetus reiterates what makes us free or enslaved.

"If you want to preserve your choice and keep it in accord with nature, you'll be entirely safe; all will go smoothly; you'll have no trouble.  If you want to safeguard those things that lie within your own power and are free by nature, and remain satisfied with those, what is left for you to worry about?" (v. 1-3, p. 74).

Socrates safeguarded what belonged to him - that which was in his power.  Therefore, he could state, with confidence, "I've never committed any wrong whether in my private life or my public life."

But, if you are going to stretch your desires and aversions towards things outside your control, you will become enslaved to those very things.  You'll weep, groan and beg and you will "be a slave ever afterwards" (v. 12, p. 75).

Each of us must "choose unequivocally and wholeheartedly to be either the one thing or the other, either free or slave, either educated or uneducated, either a fighting cock of true spirit or one without spirit, either one who will endure a rain of blows until death or one who'll immediately give up the fight" (v. 13, p. 75).

The real goal: "Ensure that my mind will be able to adapt itself to whatever comes about" (v. 21, p. 76).

If you cannot succeed at this, then your master will be "whoever has authority over anything that you're anxious to gain or avoid" (v. 26, p. 76).

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 2.1 - That confidence does not conflict with caution

I tried reading this chapter a few times; I'm not entirely sure I've understood it perfectly, but I'll do my best to explain how I read it.

It begins with a paradox: "we ought to combine caution with confidence in all that we do" (v. 1, p. 70).

He later explains that it is not paradoxical when explained like this: "Where things that lie outside the sphere of choice are concerned, there you should act with confidence, but when it comes to things within the sphere of choice, there you should act with caution" (v. 5, p. 70).

How I understand this: If you have a clear understanding of what is not in your control, then you should be able to behave confidently.  For example, death is out of our control.  Therefore, we do not need to let our fears control us with regard to death - in other words, we can be confident we are going to die and there is nothing we can do about it; the matter is settled.

And, with regard to things in our control (our use of impressions; our attitude; our desires), then we ought to exercise caution and be sure we are judging impressions correctly; that we recognize our attitude ought to be adjusted by ourselves and not swayed by things outside our control.

With this understanding, we can now review Epictetus' statements throughout the rest of the chapter.

In verses 10 to 12, he explains that we all ought to know that death, banishment, pain or ignominy are things outside our control - they could happen to any one of us and our efforts to ward them off will be futile.  In this, we ought to be confident!  But, as so many people do, we allow sure knowledge to turn into "rashness, recklessness, foolhardiness, impudence" and we allow fear to creep in our lives.

Later, he says, "it isn't death or pain that is frightening, but the fear that we feel in the face of death or pain.  It is towards death, then, that our confidence should be directed, and towards the fear of death our caution" (v. 14, p. 71).

Socrates called such things as fear of death, "bogeys" which are similar to masks that frighten children.  Children are afraid of such masks because they lack experience and knowledge.

Continuing on the subject of death, "What is death?  A bogey.  Turn it around and you'll find out; look, it doesn't bite!  Sooner or later, your poor body must be separated from its scrap of vital spirit, just as it was formerly.  Why be upset, then if it should come about now?" (v. 17, p. 71)

"And what is pain?  A bogey; turn it round and you'll find out.  Your poor flesh sometimes undergoes rough treatment, and sometimes gentle.  If you don't find that to be to your profit, the door stands open" (v. 19, p. 72).

What do we get when we apply this reasoning?  "a true philosophical education, namely, peace of mind, fearlessness, and freedom" (v. 21, p. 72).

"No one who lives in fear, then, or distress or agitation, can be free, but anyone who is released from fear, distress, and agitation is released by the very same course from slavery too" (v. 24, p. 72).

We must be able to demonstrate that we have learned from philosophy.  The focus ought not to be on how well we remember or write, but how we applied what we learned.  "Show me how you are in relation to desire and aversion, and whether you never fail to get what you want, and never fall into what you want to avoid" (v. 31, p. 73).

"See how I never fail to attain what I desire, see how I never fall into what I want to avoid.  Bring death before me and you'll know.  Bring hardships, bring imprisonment, bring ignominy, bring condemnation" (v. 35, p. 73).

"Let others study how to plead in the courts, or how to deal with problems, or with syllogisms, while you study how to face death, imprisonment, torture, and exile.  Do all this with confidence, placing your trust in the one who has called you to this task, and has judged you worthy of this position, in which, once you have taken it up, you'll show what can be achieved by a rational ruling centre when it is ranged against forces that lie outside the sphere of choice" (v. 38-39, p. 74).

I like another translation of this same passage:

"Your duty is to prepare for death and imprisonment, torture and exile - and all such evils - with confidence, because you have faith in the one who has called you to face them, having judged you worthy of the role.

"When you take on the role, you will show the superiority of reason and the mind over forces unconnected with the will."

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 1.30 - What should we have at hand that help us in difficult circumstances?

After I read the chapter a few times, I would have entitled the chapter: What's the Point of it All?  And by 'it' I mean life.

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.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 1.29 - On steadfastness

The common theme from this chapter seems to be "mental toughness."

A person has to be really mentally tough to stand up to a tyrant and bully.  Mental toughness begins with the ability to derive contentment from within.  If you think you will be content by obtaining or avoiding things external to your mind, you will be disappointed.  As Epictetus says, "If you want something good, get it from yourself."

If you are able to gain contentment from yourself, then what can a tyrant do to you?  A tyrant may threaten to put you in chains, but he is not putting you in chains; rather he is putting your hands in chains.  A tyrant may threaten to lop off your head, but he is not killing you, he is killing your body.  Indeed, Epictetus is using some very extreme examples to make a point.  The modern-day equivalent is a saying that kids may say to a bully: "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

A tyrant or bully ultimately wants complete control over you - they want to control your judgments, your opinions, your thoughts.  But this is where the tyrant loses control.  He does not have this power.  He may have power to chain you, imprison you or kill you, but he can never control your thoughts.  But what about mind-altering drugs?  Well, then, that falls under the category of controlling your body (your brain), but the real you is not under his control.

Another aspect of mental toughness is to have patience with those who are not philosophical.  If you, as one who studies philosophy, have decided that true, meaningful happiness cannot be found in the opening of Christmas presents; and if a child comes up to you, to wish you a Merry Christmas, you do not begin to philosophize and say that Christmas is not "good", rather you should say, "Merry Christmas" back to the child.  Similarly, if you cannot persuade another person to change their perspective on philosophy, then treat them as you would a child who lacks understanding and context - be patient with them (see verses 30-32).

Once we have learned something, we should be willing to practice it.  We should always be ready for and looking for opportunities to practice virtue.  "We should keep all this in mind, then, and when we're summoned to confront any difficulty of this kind, we should know that the moment has come to show whether we have received a proper philosophical education ... Athletes ... are non too happy to be matched against lightweights" rather they want a challenge to test their practice and learning (see v. 33-35, p. 65-66).

Furthermore, you can view people who "don't get it" as opportunities to practice what you learn from philosophy.  Are you up to the challenge of being patient with others?  Why did you read and study these things (Stoicism) if not to practice it?  You should be grateful for chances to demonstrate what you've learned, and disappointed when you don't have an opportunity to practice.  Gladiators begged to be put in the coliseum with worthy opponents - they were always eager to prove their mettle (see verses 36-38).

Developing mental toughness also requires you to embrace and love the life you've been given.  We do not get to choose our circumstances all the time.  We do not get to choose who our parents and family are.  You have the ability to cope and live in contentment now, in these circumstances.  Just like clothes and props don't make an actor great (it's his acting that makes him great), so too it is not our circumstances that make us happy; it's how we react to them that does!  Are you or can you be a philosopher as a Senator or Emperor?  How about as a garbage collector?  Epictetus makes a call to everyone: "What is it that is lacking, then?  Someone to put them into practice, someone to bear witness to the arguments in his actions" (verse 56).

Monday, February 4, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 1.28 - That we should not be angry with others; and what things are small, and what are great, among human beings?

According to the Stoics, people act according to their impressions.  What does that mean?  It means that when some event happens (it may just happen or the event may happen specifically to us as an individual) we may react a few different ways.

We may react instinctively, without thinking.  Or maybe we simply observe the event - like watching a leaf fall from a tree.  Or maybe we acknowledge the event and consider what it has to do with us.  If we are required to have an opinion, we may think about it and decide.  If no opinion is required, perhaps we simply pass.  And on that last part - what criteria should we use if we are to have an opinion?

For many people, events impress themselves upon us and we allow ourselves to react without thinking.  You're reading a book in a quiet room.  A little girl enters the room and begins whistling.  It bothers you and you instinctively yell at her.  There was no wrong done on her part.  'But she should see that I'm reading and I need quiet!'  Fine, then teach her and try to persuade her why she should not be whistling in the room right now.

This is a dumb little example, but it is a microcosm of the greater world.  People may think that being angry is a virtue.  And until you can convince them otherwise, why should they not go on living angrily?  Either bear (have patience with) what others do, or make a genuine attempt to convince them of the better way.  But no grumbling and complaining.

Epictetus runs through a similar scenario with Medea (see this summary of her).  He succinctly states that Medea thinks it is better to gratify her anger toward her husband than to protect her children.  Most of us would see this as folly!  To which Epictetus says, "Show her clearly that she is mistaken and she won't follow that course; but as long as you haven't shown it, what else can she do than follow what seems best to her?  Nothing else.  Why should you be angry with her, then, because, poor wretch, she has gone astray on matters of the highest importance, and has changed from a human being into a viper?  Shouldn't you, if anything, take pity on her instead?"  (v. 8-9, p. 60).

In so many cases, we assume the other person should know better?  Have we checked our assumptions?  And after having checked our assumptions and learning that the other person needs some educating, are we willing to help them by educating them - by showing them a better way?

The chapter pivots to point out that The Iliad and The Odyssey would not have happened had it not been for impressions and reactions of Paris and Menelaus.  The person Epictetus is having a dialogue with acknowledges that wars, the loss of men and razing of cities is simply due to some bad impressions by a few people.

And then Epictetus simply states that wars, razed cities and dead men are no different than dead sheep and birds nests being burned.  Now this is shocking to the other person and it may even be shocking to you and me to hear Epictetus so flippantly disregard life and property.  But he is willing to teach us.

There is no difference between a man's home and a stork's nest ... both are simply shelters; nothing more and nothing less.

But there is a difference between the man and the stork.  He says, "So where in human beings is the great good and evil to be found?  In that which distinguishes them as human; and if that is preserved and kept well fortified, and if one's self-respect, and fidelity, and intelligence are kept unimpaired, then the human being himself is safeguarded; but if any of these are destroyed or taken by storm, then he himself is destroyed" (v. 20-21, p. 61).

What makes humans unique, also defines our nature.  Our honor, trustworthiness, intelligence - our virtue is what makes us different from the beasts.  Living a life according to Virtue is our true nature.

He expounds, using The Iliad as an example: "[It] consists of nothing more than impressions and the use of impressions.  An impression prompted Paris to carry off the wife of Menelaus, and an impression prompted Helen to go with him" (v. 12, p. 61).

I apologize for all the copying of quotes, but one more.  This is the rub: do we allow our life to be ruled by reactions to impressions?  Or do we put thought into our reactions?  This is how Epictetus closes the chapter:

"Am I any better than Agamemnon and Achilles, to be satisfied by impressions alone, when they caused and suffered such evils by following their impressions?  What tragedy has had any other origin than this?  What is the Atreus of Euripides?  All a matter of impressions.  The Oedipus of Sophocles?  Impressions.  The Phoenix?  Impressions.  The Hippolytus?  Impressions.  What do you call those who follow every impression that strikes them?  Madmen!  What about us, then; do we act any differently?" (v. 31-33, p. 62).

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 1.27 - In how many ways do impressions arise, and what should we have at hand to help us deal with them?

The world is full of ideas, impressions, opinions and events.  We are bombarded with so many voices telling us what to think and not to think; what to do and not do.  And our ruling center needs to sort through the mountains of data to guide us on a safe course.  This is what philosophy aims to teach us: how to successfully navigate the bombardment.

Epictetus says, "Whatever difficulty may trouble us, we must bring forward the appropriate remedy to apply against it" (v. 3, p. 58).  If we have a bad habit that needs correction, then we find a solution to stop the old and begin a new habit.  If we are uneducated and have faulty thinking, then we must find and apply a solution in the form of sound reasoning and thinking.  "Against sophistic arguments we should apply logical reasoning, and train ourselves in such reasoning so as to become familiar with it.  Against specious appearance, we should apply clear preconceptions, keeping them well polished and ready for use" (v. 6, p. 58).

He then uses "death" as an example of a process we all ought to go through when trying to deal with false impressions.

If you are afraid of death and wish to escape it, then find a way.  Can you go to a place or to people who can prevent you from dying?  Then go!  But if you cannot escape death, will you then grieve?  Or will you accept your fate?

If you can change the "external circumstance" (i.e. it's in your control), then do so.  But if you cannot, then this is where you must embrace and love your fate.  Else, you become impious (you hate God/Zeus/the Universe).

Friday, February 1, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 1.26 - What is the law of life?

Theory is nice and gets us thinking about what is appropriate, but actual living is what counts.  Epictetus says, "far more important is the law of life that states that we must do what follows from nature" (v. 1, p. 56).  We live in a physical universe and world.  While some may sit around and theorize all day and live in a world of words, it ultimately doesn't matter until they actually do something physical.  One other way of stating this is: theorizing is easy, doing is harder.

Now, with that stated, we indeed have to start with education.  Nothing great was ever accomplished without some thought or retrospective.  This is why Epictetus says we go astray due to ignorance.  Along those same lines, it is education and theory that teaches us; not anger.  "To whom has anger ever taught the art of navigation or music?  When it comes to the art of life, do you suppose, then, that your anger will teach me what I need to know?" (v. 7, p. 56).

He also teaches us that the first step in philosophy is "to become aware of the condition of one's ruling center" (v. 15, p. 57).  In other words, we need to know the state of our hegemonikon.  If it is weak, then we ought not to use it in matters of importance.  If it is weak, we need to strengthen it and discipline and focus it.  This is where you ought to learn about and practice the Discipline of Assent.  This is how you begin to examine your life.  As Socrates said, "the unexamined life is not worth living."