Enchiridion XX


Remember that it is not he who gives abuse or blows, who affronts, but the view we take of these things as insulting. When, therefore, anyone provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you. Try, therefore, in the first place, not to be bewildered by appearances. For if you once gain time and respite, you will more easily command yourself.

It is true that ultimately we control how we decide to respond -- and indeed whether we do. One time when I was in school another boy hit me from behind. I did not know him, and to this day don't know why he hit me. Ultimately I just looked him the eye for a long moment, and then went on without a word. It was a very effective strategy, as he'd hit me just as hard as he could from behind -- and failed to do any damage. I'm sure he knew that he didn't want the fight he'd provoked.

Still, I think we can reasonably sever the Stoic point -- that I, and not you, am the master of my inner world and I don't have to let you provoke me if it is not useful to me -- from the general obligations of honor, from which so much of our common peace depends.* In general it is useful to respond to force so that it does not grow bolder, and to quash petty tyranny so that it does not gain mastery. People should be afraid to give blows without good cause, and abuse under any circumstances. Our society is much more pleasant when we conduct ourselves with the mutual respect that comes from knowing that the alternatives are too dangerous to ponder.

* "from which... depends" rather than "on which... depends"? This is one of those amusing places we sometimes discuss where the language is even now changing. We almost always now say 'depend on,' and think of depending as if it were a sort of foundation 'on' which something might be rested. Yet of old 'depends' meant 'hangs down from,' as a watch might depend from a chain. Both usages imply firmness of support, the sense of direction has inverted over time. I take great pleasure in being one of the keepers of such secret fires. 

1 comment:

ymarsakar said...

If humanity were not provoked to action and disbelief by the prophets and messengers of God, people would still be obeying totalitarian lockdown orders.