Hell Is Other People

"What happens to those who do not accept this view of God and life?" These people punish themselves. They are miserable. Is any person dissatisfied with being alone? Let him be alone. Is a man dissatisfied with his parents? Let him be a bad son, and lament. Is he dissatisfied with his children? Let him be a bad father. "Cast him into prison," interjects a student in the midst of this monologue. What prison? He is already in a prison, for he is there against his will, and where a man is against his will, there he is in prison. Socrates was not in prison, for he was there willingly. "Must my leg then be lamed?" Wretch, do you then on account of one poor leg find fault with the world? Will you not willingly surrender it for the whole? Will you not withdraw from it? Will you not gladly part with it to him who gave it? And will you be vexed and discontented with the things established by God? Know you not how small a part you are compared with the whole. I mean with respect to the body, for as to intelligence you are not inferior to the gods of Olympus. The magnitude of intelligence is not measured by length nor yet by height, but by thoughts.

Jean Paul Sartre, the existentialist philosopher, famously said, "Hell is other people". Sartre, in this case, falls into the trap of lamenting his God given circumstance. Epictetus tells us that we should rejoice in what we have. By whining and complaining we merely live in a prison of our own making and never change our lives or the lives of others for the better.

It is important to understand that Epictetus does not wish us to resign ourselves to every calamity that comes our way and call it a joy. He rather would have us make the best of every circumstance. See the glass as half-full rather than half-empty. We cannot improve our lives without improving ourselves first. In his "Meditations", the Emperor-Philosopher, Marcus Aurelius writes that if we begin to live our lives in a stoic manner, within ten days we will find that those about us notice the change and begin to act differently, more positively toward us and the world.

Chapter 12:

  1. On Contentment
  2. The Necessity of the Wager (12a)
  3. Control What You Can (12b)
  4. Hell Is Other People (12c)
  5. Giving Yourself Trouble (12d)
Stoicism and Christianity Index

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This is a translation and explanation of the first book of the Discourses of Epictetus. His words are in regular text, comments are in bold.

Biographical Information on Epictetus

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