April 8, 2017 - Ancient Stoicism in Plain English
Be Diligent In Your Pursuit (Epictetus’ Discourses in Plain English 1.10)
Key ideas of this discourse
We don’t pursue our goals as diligently as people after power pursue theirs, even though our goals are highly worth pursuing.
Both teachers and students should stop being lazy and indifferent.
We all should stop being lazy and indifferent and pursue our goals diligently.
We are not diligent
If we pursue self-development as diligently as people after power pursue their schemes, we might get somewhere.
I know someone who is older than me and works for the state as an official in charge of the grain supply. When he returned, being out of power for a while, he talked to me about his former life with disdain and said
“I would give myself exclusively to a life of peace and tranquility from now on. Not much time left of my life.”
“I don’t believe you. Your resolve will last only as long as you don’t have access to power. The moment that happens, you will forget all this.”
“Epictetus, if I ever put one foot in the palace, think of me whatever you like.”
How did he act? Even before he entered Rome, he received his letter of appointment. He immediately forgot all he’d said and has not given it a thought ever since. He is piling one encumbrance on another. I should be glad he passed through this place and talked to me. He made me feel as clever as a prophet compared to him.
We tend to be lazy
Am I saying that he is like an animal unfit for action? Not at all. But why don’t we act? Look at me. In the morning, I remind myself which author I should be reading with the students. Then I tell myself, “Who cares if the student reads this or that author. First let me get my sleep.”
All pursuits are not of equal value
And yet how can the business of the state compare to ours? If you look at what they do, you will see. What do they do except vote on a resolution and then huddle together discussing some means of making a living? Is there any similarity between the requests they receive, such as, “Please allow me to export some grain,” and the requests we receive, such as, “Please teach me Chrysippus so I may learn how the universe works, where we rational beings fit in it, and where good and evil lie.” Are these are two things equal? Is it as shameful to neglect one as to neglect the other?
It is not just us teachers who are lazy and indifferent. You young people are even worse. When we see youngsters at play, we join them. We would be even more interested in joining them in serious study if they were wide awake and keen on studying.
Think about this
If we had applied as heartily to our own work as the old men at Rome do to their schemes, perhaps we too might have achieved something. Discourses I.10.1. Epictetus/Christopher Gill