Simple Stoic Advice

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The beautiful thing about Stoic philosophy is the advice contained within it is just as applicable today as it was when it was first written all those many years ago. We can learn a great deal from interpreting the advice provided and using it to our advantage as we go throughout our own lives.

Today’s quote comes to us courtesy of Epictetus from the Enchiridion, entry 3:

Quote

“With everything which entertains you, is useful, or of which you are fond, remember to say to yourself, beginning with the very least things, “What is its nature?” If you are fond of a jug, say, “I am fond of a jug”; for when it is broken you will not be disturbed. If you kiss your own child or wife, say to yourself that you are kissing a human being; for when it dies you will not be disturbed.”

Advice

Marcus Aurelius once wrote to himself in Meditations:

“Objective judgment, now, at this very moment. Unselfish action, now, at this very moment. Willing acceptance — now, at this very moment — of all external events. That’s all you need.”

The need for one to break down things objectively is one of the staples of Stoic philosophy. It falls in line with the value-judgments we apply to things externally.

Without even realizing it, we place value on the majority of things around us. Why? Because society is built this way. Society has told us lies such as, “I am only pretty if I buy the makeup a Kardashian wears,” or, “I am not successful unless I have a job that pays six figures.”

These are values that we then grow up with and apply to things in our lives.

But the Stoics worked to remove these judgments from things. Why? Because it clouds our understanding of what they are and creates an emotional attachment to them.

Epictetus’ example of the jug is no different. Rather than looking upon the jug as some brilliant piece, he calls it a jug. He doesn’t refer to it as being valuable or being better than all others, he simply calls it a jug and speaks to its function. He goes further though with that of wives and children.

Most people cannot fathom staring upon their children and saying to themselves, they are mortal, they will one day die. But Epictetus teaches his students to because it is a fact of life. Too often, we blind ourselves to the harsh realities. Epictetus pushes past these difficulties and tells his students to confront them and remind yourself that yes, while they are our children or loved ones, they’re no different than any other living being. They too will one day pass, hopefully not for a long time.

The key to understanding Epictetus’ third entry in the Enchiridion is to reflect upon the value-judgments you place on things outside of yourself. Where did they come from? Can you remove them? How has the value-judgment(s) impacted your attachment to the object or thing?

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