Enchiridion XLIII


Everything has two handles: one by which it may be borne, another by which it cannot. If your brother acts unjustly, do not lay hold on the affair by the handle of his injustice, for by that it cannot be borne, but rather by the opposite—that he is your brother, that he was brought up with you; and thus you will lay hold on it as it is to be borne.

Sometimes I find it very easy to bear that someone needs to be cut out of my life, whoever they were before. This is possible to do when it must be done, as everyone who has walked away from a once-beloved who proved to be incompatible with you has learned. Sometimes even a cousin who develops a drug problem (and consequently a theft problem) can be cut out without much trouble. Still, one might say in the case of a brother that normally there ought to be a duty of blood that overcomes that.  

More broadly considered, this is a general principle. If one were in a failing state like the Weimar Republic, one could bear it because one knew it would pass and worked as well as one could for something better. If the state then failed more completely, as Weimar did, one could bear it because one could do little to support the new state and only one's duty to family and friends. 

Yet there comes a point at which things are not to be borne. The Stoic here is advising you on how to survive and learn to live with horrible things. That is a breaking point between their philosophy and my own, which holds that death is preferable to dishonor. Somethings ought not to be borne; somethings, even 'semblances,' must be opposed by a decent internal soul. Even if it destroys us.


douglas said...

Hear, hear.

Tom said...


When I initially read the text, I took the meaning of 'borne' differently, as 'a way to handle it' -- he's talking about handles, not packs.

So then I thought he meant that you can focus on the injustice or the relationship (the two handles). If you focus on the injustice, your complaint cannot be carried -- your brother will resist you. But if you focus on the relationship, then maybe your brother will hear you out and correct the problem. This makes it a way to handle problems rather than bear injustice.

Of course, I'm probably quite wrong.