Enchiridion XXIV


Let not such considerations as these distress you: “I shall live in discredit and be nobody anywhere.” For if discredit be an evil, you can no more be involved in evil through another than in baseness. Is it any business of yours, then, to get power or to be admitted to an entertainment? By no means. How then, after all, is this discredit? And how it is true that you will be nobody anywhere when you ought to be somebody in those things only which are within your own power, in which you may be of the greatest consequence? “But my friends will be unassisted.” What do you mean by “unassisted”? They will not have money from you, nor will you make them Roman citizens. Who told you, then, that these are among the things within our own power, and not rather the affairs of others? And who can give to another the things which he himself has not? “Well, but get them, then, that we too may have a share.” If I can get them with the preservation of my own honor and fidelity and self-respect, show me the way and I will get them; but if you require me to lose my own proper good, that you may gain what is no good, consider how unreasonable and foolish you are. Besides, which would you rather have, a sum of money or a faithful and honorable friend? Rather assist me, then, to gain this character than require me to do those things by which I may lose it. Well, but my country, say you, as far as depends upon me, will be unassisted. Here, again, what assistance is this you mean? It will not have porticos nor baths of your providing? And what signifies that? Why, neither does a smith provide it with shoes, nor a shoemaker with arms. It is enough if everyone fully performs his own proper business. And were you to supply it with another faithful and honorable citizen, would not he be of use to it? Yes. Therefore neither are you yourself useless to it. “What place, then,” say you, “shall I hold in the state?” Whatever you can hold with the preservation of your fidelity and honor. But if, by desiring to be useful to that, you lose these, how can you serve your country when you have become faithless and shameless?

"How can you serve your country when you have become faithless and shameless?" There is a rhetorical question, since we have endless evidence before our eyes of how such people 'serve.'

This is a larger statement of how to engage in public matters, which have also been called 'semblances' and 'externals.' It is not that you ought not to do it; it is that you ought not to privilege any of them above the maintenance of your own honor, fidelity, and self-respect. If you do no more than provide your country with one more faithful and honorable citizen, you will have done enough. If it is given to you to do more, fine; if it is not, you have fulfilled your real duty by preserving these internal qualities.

It occurs to me that Stoic philosophy is not taught in public schools, except for those who choose to major or take electives in philosophy or history and even then only if they happen to choose that area. Yet what better lesson could we convey to the young than this one right here in today's chapter? It does not matter if you are famous; it does not matter if you are powerful. It only matters to live with faith and honor, and to live so that you hold your head up because you know that you deserve to hold it up. 

Only in that way could you serve your people anyway, whether friend or fellow citizen. 

The clear analogy today is to Mark 8:36, which makes a similar but metaphysically sterner claim. What profits it you to gain a position of service to others if you have lost the faith and honor that would allow you to perform service? Well, it might profit you quite a bit -- again, there are many examples right in front of us of people who have profited from precisely that. Yet I think Epictetus means something very close here to what Jesus said.


Ymarsakar said...

Way ahead there. Already in discredit and nobody to anybody. That is the true state of divinity on earth.

J Melcher said...

It is enough if everyone fully performs his own proper business.

"Stay in your own lane."

It may help to emphasize the adverb here. "Fully". Youngster, do not settle for graduating school with a worthless diploma, but fully embrace the opportunities of a welding shop, a large library, the chemistry lab, those few instructors who love their own topics and love teaching. Steal, if you must, the full education laid out. Worker, do not settle for the pay check. Participate in the training offers, the retirement investing offers, the social scene, the union if honorable. Do your tasks with a cheerful manner, and when you complain, do so with a feasible proposed remedy to the problem. Manager, ask your workers to undertake no task you are unwilling to perform yourself, knowing that by constant practice the workers will be better and swifter at the task than you yourself. Enforce safe work practices. It is in the enterprise your duty to all to prevent theft and harrassment, exercise your authority fairly and fearlessly.

Child, make your bed. Pick up your toys and remember where you put them away. Carry your breakfast dishes to the sink. ...

Etc etc. Do what you do and play your part FULLY.

Grim said...

This chapter would be so useful in so many ways. "Why does he make more than me?" "He didn't take two years off to do X, Y, Z."

I took a year off to cowboy, and several years to pursue graduate education. I could have spent those years earning money, and if I had I'd be in a much better place financially. Right now that seems very important; but if I had done that, I'd not have the education I do, nor the experiences that have shaped me. So I have fewer resources, but other things I've paid for instead.