Epictetus (55-135 CE) Enchiridion
A manual for living a contented life
Rendered by Charles Scamahorn (1935- ) 2014
Right now give some thought as to how you will behave when alone, and how you will behave towards others when in public. Live and speak quietly when alone, and say only those things that add to a pleasant conversation when in public. Be quiet and polite when people are excitedly talking about sports, parties, drinking and comparing people’s behavior, by remaining agreeable and saying nothing either good or bad about anything or anyone. When with friends bring your part of the conversation to appropriate helpful subjects, and when with strangers remain respectful and quiet. Avoid raucous laughter and respond to humor with a smiling chuckle, and avoid harsh comments or swearing when unpleasant things happen. Avoid callous events, and be careful not to slip into others’ ugly behaviors, because if you spend time with callous people you will inadvertently take on their callous behaviors. Accept only what you need for things such as food, clothing, housing and eliminate those frivolous things that imply personal status or luxury. For carnal desires such as sex, maintain your courteous and appropriate behavior, but don’t complain about people who do weird things, or even mention that you aren’t interested. If you hear of rumors that people are saying unpleasant things about you, just say something offhand like, “They don’t know of my other problems, or they wouldn’t be talking about those silly things.” When the public is excited about public happenings, plays, or sporting events, limit your remarks to your personal well-being; because the past is fixed, be quietly in agreement with your new personal reality within that newly fixed situation. Refrain from laughing or complaining at anyone involved in those past events, and after you leave some spectacular event, limit your conversation to how it improved your life in some special way, so people would be aware of your camaraderie of being there, but not be upset by your opinions. When you attend public events and lectures be dignified and thoughtful, and avoid being disagreeable. When you are about to meet an important person, and have personal doubts about how to relate to them, think, “How would Socrates or Zeno behave?” So when you go to meet an important person, think before you get there, that you may be rebuffed, and the door will be closed to you. Only if your visit is important enough to endure those conditions, go there and endure the insults. Don’t worry about their offense, but remember that their behavior is their business, how you feel about it is yours, and continue on with your tranquil life. Also, remember that your life stories are not as interesting to others as they are to you, so keep them short. Avoid loud laughter, because it often becomes vulgar and needlessly offends other people, and then they may treat you badly. Avoid foul language and foul thoughts expressed by others by simply being bored with that kind of speech and thought, because it is nearly impossible for anyone to talk to a bored person.
This long paragraph discusses many little tricks for coping with common mildly difficult social situations. I recently discovered, in a controlled experiment, just how powerful simply expressing boredom can be to continuing a conversation. When a person becomes offensive with swearing or nasty thoughts, just change your attitude and they will automatically change their tone of address and the subject. Alternatively, paying rapt attention to someone who is behaving excessively, in any emotion or subject, encourages them to keep it up. It is usually counterproductive to argue with anyone about anything, especially if you think they should change their opinion to agree with yours. That just entrenches both of you to be more defensive and rigid. Conversation is mostly self-talk and about honing your own thoughts, and using the other people’s thoughts to help you understand your own self better and relate to the world more successfully.