May 19: Stoic's turn


The last few days have been days of alternation in the Daily Reading Guide. Friday and Sunday we had tales and adventures -- talking owls, and dancing flowers, and children and kings and gay students (old-fashioned use of "gay," although I suspect new-fashioned use would also apply). And on Saturday and Monday old men, in the harsh Mediterranean light, tell us that it is all bullshit. This, plus math, is about the sum total of the human experience.

Today's crusty old man is the Stoic Epictetus and some of his golden sayings. When I was a youth I was attracted to Stoicism, because what teenager doesn't need to hear its essential message of "sit down and shut up"? Or as Epictetus puts it:

Above all, remember that the door stands open. Be not more fearful than children; but as they, when they weary of the game, cry, “I will play no more,” even so, when thou art in the like case, cry, “I will play no more,” and depart. But if thou stayest, make no lamentation.
And the other Stoic point -- that we should try to create our own mental weather, rather than allow others to create it -- is a useful one to hear, too:
“Say then, what are things indifferent?”
“Things that are not in our power.”
“Say then, what follows?”
“That things which are not in our power are nothing to me.”
“Say also what things you hold to be good.”
“A will such as it ought to be, and a right use of the things of sense.”
You could say it's "if life gives you lemons, make lemonade," but that's not it exactly. It's more like, "If life gives you lemons, try to concentrate on how unnecessary fruits are." Lemonade implies the hope of refreshment; Stoicism wants you to accept the futility of ever being refreshed.

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