Enchiridion IV


When you set about any action, remind yourself of what nature the action is. If you are going to bathe, represent to yourself the incidents usual in the bath—some persons pouring out, others pushing in, others scolding, others pilfering. And thus you will more safely go about this action if you say to yourself, “I will now go to bathe and keep my own will in harmony with nature.” And so with regard to every other action. For thus, if any impediment arises in bathing, you will be able to say, “It was not only to bathe that I desired, but to keep my will in harmony with nature; and I shall not keep it thus if I am out of humor at things that happen.”

Obviously the example turns on a public bath, a Roman tradition. This is very urbane advice: if you should see some pilfering going on in the city, forget it, Jake. ("It's Chinatown.") The nature of the thing -- the city -- means that there will be a certain number of thieves about. You'll see a certain number of homeless. Beggars will confront you. The poor will always be with you. It's just the way it is.

Accepting the world as it is, according to the nature of the thing, is another core insight. The nature of the city is of course human nature, and the city is the environment that is in a sense the most human of all: the environment reformed by human will in accord with human nature. It is human nature that produces the thieves.


raven said...

I am enjoying these- for some reason they speak to me.

Like repairing an engine- you know something is likely to go sideways, don't know what it might be, but when the bolt snaps off or the timing chain drops into the crankcase, it is "expected", why get upset?

J Melcher said...

It's a challenge to resist the human -- even animalistic -- urge to punish offenses against our instinctive sense of proper behaviors. Chickens will leave off feeding to enforce their status in the local pecking order. Canines defend their fair share of a carcass brought down in a pack hunt -- and enforce their rights to a hunting territory. Social animals will form mobs to drive away individuals who seem crazy or sick or challenging to the existing order.

I trust there will be a recommendation coming up about how to find the balance between accepting the trivial and standing up for what seems important.

Asking us, as individual and presumably moral, individuals to ignore thieves and lepers and vandals and any who make our communities less livable is a stretch too far, I think. On the other hand, treating those who cut in line as criminals is wrong; and it's comparably wrong to make too big a deal of those scolds -- "Karens" -- who set themselves up as arbiters and enforcers of trivial norms.

Grim said...

That merits an aside, JM. I will post separately about that issue.