March 7, 2018 - Ancient Stoicism in Plain English
Tag(s): Book Excerpts ||

Your Judgement is the Sole Cause of Your Distress

Key ideas of this discourse

  1. Only your choices can cause you distress.
  2. We tend be distressed because we have been following the wrong course of action since our childhood.
  3. We have been brought up from the beginning to believe that external things cause us distress. So, we behave like children.

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.

Only your choices can cause you distress

The first difference between a philosopher and a layperson is this: The layperson says, “Oh, how I suffer because of my child, because of my brother, because of my father,” whereas the philosopher, if compelled, says, “Oh, how I suffer,” thinks about it and adds, “because of myself.”

Choice cannot be hindered or hurt by anything outside your area of choice, only by choice itself. So, whenever you go astray, if you are so inclined, blame yourself for it. And if you remember that nothing except your own judgment can cause you to become disturbed or confused, then I swear to you by all the gods that we’ve made progress.

We have been following the wrong course

But, in fact, we have been following a different course from the beginning. Even when we were children, If we ever bumped into something, our nurse, instead of telling us off, would hit the stone. Why? What has the stone done? Should it have moved out of your way because you we were being foolish?

Again, if we couldn’t find anything to eat after our bath, our attendant didn’t try to moderate our appetite but punished the cook instead. Why, did we appoint you attendant of the cook? No, but of the child.  It is she whom you are to correct and improve.

The result? Even when we are all grown up, we resemble children. After all, it is being a child to be uncultivated in matters of culture, unschooled in matters of literature, and uneducated in matters relating to the art of living.

Think about this

Nothing except our own judgement is capable of causing us to become disturbed and confused. Discourses III.19.3. Epictetus [RD]