Epictetus
Epictetus


Giving Yourself Trouble

Will you choose to place your good in your ability to think? "I am a wretch to have such a father and mother!" What, then, was it permitted to you to come forth, and to select, and to say: "Let such a man at this moment unite with such a woman that I may be produced?" It was not permitted, but it was a necessity for your parents to exist first, and then for you to be born. Well then, since they are such as they are, is there no remedy given to you? Now if you did not know for what purpose you possess the ability to see, you would be unfortunate and wretched if you closed your eyes when colors were brought before them. But you possess greatness of soul and nobility of spirit for every event that may happen. Not knowing this are you not more unfortunate and wretched? Events only occur in proportion to the power which you possess to deal with them. But you spurn this power most at the very time when you ought to maintain it. You should thank the gods that they have allowed you to be above the things which they have not placed in your power. They have made you accountable only for those things which are in your power? As to your parents, the gods have left you free from responsibility. The same is true with respect to your brothers, and your body, and possessions, and death and life. For what, then, have they made you responsible? They have made you responsible for that which alone is in your power, the proper use of appearances. Why then do you draw on yourself the things for which you are not responsible? It is merely a giving of trouble to yourself.

It is often said that God does not give us problems greater than our ability to handle them. Epictetus concurs with this idea. But he goes further to say that conditions beyond our control are truly not worth worrying about. Some theologians have proposed that worry is a violation of one of the Ten Commandments, the prohibition against murder. For it is well known that excessive worry is not good for the health. Thus, worry is a way of shortening our own lives. We cannot choose our parents; we cannot choose our place of birth; we cannot control the economy or the stock market. To worry ourselves too much about these factors merely destroys our happiness and even our health.

Yet where do we draw the line between worry and concern? The key is not to ignore the outside factors impinging on our being, but to make the best of them. See the advantages of every situation. Epictetus dwells on the idea of bad parents. He would say, at least be thankful that they gave you life. You are not responsible for their actions. You can rise above any situation by the way you perceive it, and the way you handle it.

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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