February 17, 2018 - Ancient Stoicism in Plain English
Get Rid of conceit and Diffidence
Key ideas of this discourse
- Ascetic practices should bring you some benefit. Otherwise, they are ridiculous.
- Even if your practice brings you some benefit, don’t go telling everyone. Not everyone will like it.
- Get rid of conceit and diffidence.
- Prove yourself superior in qualities that are uniquely human. Don’t try to take credit for qualities that don’t truly belong to you.
THE FOLLOWING DISCOURSE IS AN EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK STOIC TRAINING, BOOK III OF EPICTETUS’ DISCOURSES IN PLAIN ENGLISH. THE COMPLETE BOOK IS AVAILABLE IN ONLINE AND PAPERBACK EDITIONS FROM AMAZON AND OTHER ONLINE BOOKSTORES. http://amzn.to/2sfVvJ
Asceticism is ridiculous if you practice for the sake of practicing it
Bad choral singers cannot sing on their own, but only with many others. Likewise, some people cannot walk on their own. If you are anyone at all, walk on your own, talk to yourself, and do not hide yourself in the chorus. Put up with being laughed at sometimes. Look around you and shake yourself up to learn who you are.
If it benefits you, don’t broadcast it
When someone adopts an ascetic practice such as drinking water only, he grabs every opportunity to tell everyone who comes across
“I drink nothing but water.”
“Why, do you drink only water merely for the sake of drinking it? Man, if it is beneficial to you, drink it. If not, you are being ridiculous. If drinking only water benefits you, don’t talk about it to those irritated by it. Why do you do it? Aren’t these the very people you are trying to please?”
Some actions are performed for their own sake; others as demanded by circumstances, as a matter of good management, to accommodate others, or as a part of our life plan.
Get rid of conceit and diffidence
We should get rid of two things: conceit and diffidence.
Conceit is assuming that there is nothing more you can need.
Diffidence is assuming that it is impossible to find serenity under adverse conditions.
You can get rid of conceit through cross-examination, like Socrates did. [There is a gap in text here.] This is not impossible but it is something you must examine and investigate. Such an investigation will not harm you. In fact, the practice of philosophy is virtually that – investigating how it is possible to exercise one’s desires and aversions without hindrance.
Excel in qualities that are uniquely human
“I’m better than you. My father is of consular rank,” says one.
“I’ve been a prestigious official and you haven’t,” [says another.]
If you are a horse, would you say, “I have plenty of barley and fodder,” or, “I have lovely trappings”?
What if you spoke that way and I say, “Be that as it may. Let’s run a race.”
Is there nothing in the human activity comparable to a race in horses, which will decide who is better or who is worse? Is there no such thing as honour, or faithfulness, or justice? Prove yourself superior in these so you may be a better human being. But if you tell me that you have a powerful kick, I will answer, “You are proud of a donkey’s quality.”
Think about this
Isn’t there such a thing as reverence, faith, justice? Prove yourself superior in these points, in order to be superior as a human being. Discourses III.14.13. Epictetus [WO]