Epictetus (55-135 CE) Enchiridion
A manual for living a contented life
Rendered by Charles Scamahorn (1935- ) 2014
Sometimes a friend gets a perk you would prefer had come to you, but that decision was some other person’s choice. If it was a good thing that came to your friend you can choose feel happy for his gain, or if it was something bad he got you need not feel relieved because you didn’t get it. Either way, you can choose to remain tranquil. Also, if you didn’t do whatever it was that gained your friend his payment, then you shouldn’t expect to get what he got. And, how can you expect the same rewards from the giver if you didn’t act appropriately with that wealthy person, and maybe it was to praise his every word and action? It would be unjust and greedy of you to expect to be paid for services you did not render. To obtain things, you must do the service required or perhaps give some money. If you want to buy a head of lettuce that costs a dollar, you must pay a dollar. If some other person buys the lettuce for a dollar before you, there is no loss to you, because you still have your dollar; you haven’t lost anything. It is the same when you don’t get invited to a dinner. There’s a transaction price involved, and apparently the host didn’t think you would pay the price. Functionally, he is giving you a meal for the heartfelt praise that you will give him, or perhaps for the public honor you will bestow on him, or possibly the likelihood you will invite him to your party. When you receive a gift the social contract is that you will give something in return, and if you don’t you will become known as stupid and greedy. You must pay for what you take. If you aren’t invited you have given nothing for a meal you didn’t get, but you have gained something, that is, you didn’t have to schmooze around at his party with beggars and sycophants.
Epictetus discusses those FREE things that are offered to the public, and the price that is expected in return for those “gifts.” Always there is a payback that is expected, and weaseled back, from public freebees. Usually it’s in the form of buying into some equally wonderful free-contract where you can’t lose. We can be assured that the promised Pie in the Sky will remain tantalizingly just above our present reach, with just enough crumbs falling to us to keep our mouth watering and the holes in our pockets leaking money. Real kindness is always invisible to the recipient, because it isn’t a social contract with a return to be paid. The payment for kindness is to the giver, and it is returned to him in the form of being a better companion to himself … repeatedly.