March 3, 2018 - Ancient Stoicism in Plain English
Tag(s): Book Excerpts ||

Nothing External Can Harm You

Chuck Chakrapani

Key ideas of this discourse

  1. News is concerned with external things. So, it cannot harm you.
  2. You should be concerned only about things over which you have real choice.
  3. The way others behave is up to them. It is no concern of yours.

The following is an excerpt from the book Stoic Training, Book 3 of Epictetus’ Discourses in Plain English. The complete book is available in online and print editions from Amazon and other online bookstores.

Disturbing news cannot affect you

Whenever you receive any disturbing news, keep this thought ready at hand: The news cannot affect anything that is of your choice. Who can bring the news saying that you are mistaken in your assumption or your desires are inappropriate? No one.

“But someone can bring the news that so-and-so has died.”

“What is it to you?”

“So-and-so is speaking badly of me.”

“What is it to you?”

“My father is hatching some scheme or other.”

“Against what? Against your choice? How could he? Well, against your poor body or property. You are safe then. It’s not against you.”

“But the judge just found me guilty of impiety.”

“Didn’t the judges do the same in the case of Socrates? Is the judgment any business of yours? No. Then why worry about it?”

Others’ actions cannot harm you

Your father has to do some things. If he doesn’t do them, he will lose his character as a father, a man who loves his children and is gentle towards them. Do not try to make him lose something more because of that.

It is never the case that one person does something wrong and someone else suffers harm. Your job is to defend yourself strongly, respectfully, and without anger. Otherwise, you will lose your character as a son, respected and noble-minded.

Is the judge free from danger? No, he is exposed to an equal risk as well. Why are you then afraid of his decision? What does someone’s evil have to do with you?

You should only concern yourself with your choices

Making a bad defence will be your own evil. You should guard only against that. But whether you are condemned or acquitted is someone else’s business. It is also that person’s evil.

“So-and-so is threatening me.”

“You? No.”

“She is blaming me.”

“It is for her to look to how she manages her own business.”

“He is going to condemn me unjustly.”

“Poor wretch!”

Think about this

News never relates to anything that lies within your sphere of choice. Discourses III.18.1. [RD]