Epictetus (55-135 CE) Enchiridion
A manual for living a contented life
Rendered by Charles Scamahorn (1935- ) 2014
Here are some problems based on your acquaintances’ expectations of you that you can learn to ignore. They may say, “Why don’t you be of more value to us by doing some things that are clearly within your power to do, and we will honor you? We will give you public office, we will invite you to grand banquets and grant you the various honors of being a valued citizen.” To these kinds of statements you may respond, “It is not my life goal to be granted honors, or attend lavish banquets, so what loss is it to me if I don’t have those things?” They may say, “Your friends will be without the help you could give them if you held office, you could give them Roman citizenship, you could set them up in business to earn money, and with the abundance you would acquire from holding office you could give your friends what they need. You will have money and power, and you may share some of it with your friends.” To that I might say, “Show me how to do these things while maintaining my self-respect, trustworthiness and tranquility, and I will consider doing it. But, if you are asking that I should lose those things which I value, to grant things to you that I don’t value, you are being unreasonable and unfair to me. Do you want me as a trusted friend, or do you prefer a little money? As a friend I would expect that you would seek to help me maintain my equanimity and tranquility, and not to take my most valued qualities away from me.” They might say, “But, your community needs you, and will be without your services!” I might respond, “Our community doesn’t ask for shoes from a blacksmith, or iron tools from a cobbler. Each person comes forth with his own abilities, and mine is self-respect, trustworthiness, and tranquility. If I can supply these isn’t that of value to the community? And, of what value is a community if it loses those qualities, and becomes self-hating, untrustworthy, and filled with strife?”
The world is constantly making demands on us to do things that take us away from what Epictetus considers our personal duty to ourselves. His well-chosen example of these problems is taking on the woes of public office with its perks of extravagant physical rewards and honors; unfortunately these come at the cost of losing our tranquility. Those stations in life have frequent and unexpected interruptions that require attention, and a quality that any decision we make will displease some people, and they will make angry counter-demands to our decisions. Thus, to accept these roles requires that you wall off yourself from the public; that you hide behind a mask, that you live with the constant risk of being exposed, and that unresolvable demands can be made upon you at any time. These are easily avoided by not getting involved at the beginning, by looking into the future a little and recognizing those problems, and not accepting responsibilities. Following the Stoic path you are valuable to the community as an example of self-respect, trustworthiness and tranquility.