The Enchiridion - Part 33

This part is chock full of small peices of related advice on how to practically approach daily Stoicism.

Immediately prescribe some character and some form to yourself, which you shall observe both when you are alone and when you meet with men.

I like this, and have always attempted to live similarly. Decide who you want to be. Try always be that person, regardless of who you are with.

And let silence be the general rule, or let only what is necessary be said, and in few words. And rarely and when the occasion calls we shall say something; but about none of the common subjects, nor about gladiators, nor horse-races, nor about athletes, nor about eating or drinking, which are the usual subjects; and especially not about men, as blaming them or praising them, or comparing them. If then you are able, bring over by your conversation the conversation of your associates to that which is proper; but if you should happen to be confined to the company of strangers, be silent.

I... struggle here. I enjoy talking to people. I'm trying more and more to steer away from "base" conversations, particularly gossip and politics. It's hard, but not as hard as what's next.

Let not your laughter be much, nor on many occasions, nor excessive.

I have a naturally loud laugh and have never been smart/humble enough to contain it. It's one of the first things my (now) wife noticed and liked about me. I think the point Epictetus is making is that laughing too freely can be a distraction, and you can chase amusement instead of serious thought. I think we'll have to agree to disagree on this one.

Refuse altogether to take an oath, if it is possible: if it is not, refuse as far as you are able.

I assume this is because you are commiting to something that is (likely) out of your control, and that your attempt to fulfill your oath may cause you undue stress.

Avoid banquets which are given by strangers and by ignorant persons. But if ever there is occasion to join in them, let your attention be carefully fixed, that you slip not into the manners of the vulgar (the uninstructed). For you must know, that if your companion be impure, he also who keeps company with him must become impure, though he should happen to be pure.

This is a bit snooty, but I think there's a very valid point. You are heavily influenced by the people who you spend time with. Health, divorce and smoking have all been shown to be affected by the people around us. We need to be careful of who we suround ourselves with.

Take (apply) the things which relate to the body as far as the bare use, as food, drink, clothing, house, and slaves: but exclude everything which is for show or luxury.

This strikes me as a little strange, and not just the "needing slaves" part. Much of Stoicism is about avoiding attachment, not necessarily embracing minimalism. I get the feeling that perhaps this whole suite of advice is aimed at the novice philosopher, and Epictetus things that as a starting point, avoidance is easier to master than detachment.

As to pleasure with women, abstain as far as you can before marriage: but if you do indulge in it, do it in the way which is conformable to custom. Do not, however, be disagreeable to those who indulge in these pleasures, or reprove them; and do not often boast that you do not indulge in them yourself.

I like the second half of this: follow your path, but don't brag about it, and don't belittle others. Basically, don't be an arsehole.

If a man has reported to you, that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make any defense (answer) to what has been told you: but reply, The man did not know the rest of my faults, for he would not have mentioned these only.

This is both a deflection of an insult with humour, and a reminder to yourself that you flawed; other people see your flaws; and you cannot control it.

It is not necessary to go to the theaters often: but if there is ever a proper occasion for going, do not show yourself as being a partisan of any man except yourself, that is, desire only that to be done which is done, and for him only to gain the prize who gains the prize; for in this way you will meet with no hindrance But abstain entirely from shouts and laughter at any (thing or person), or violent emotions. And when you are come away, do not talk much about what has passed on the stage, except about that which may lead to your own improvement. For it is plain, if you do talk much, that you admired the spectacle (more than you ought).

Although about plays, this speaks mostly to me about sport. Every sports fan knows of the great joy you can derive from passionately taking sides, and if you get to see a live game, by joining in with the mob. Being with 100,000 people at a football match when "your" team is playing is a remarkable feeling. But it's a joy that is out of your control; and it is particularly hard to extract the joy of the win without exposing yourself to the sadness of a loss.

For the most part I've stopped watching sport for that reason. I now only watch Formula 1 which I can enjoy without becoming "partisan".

Do not go to the hearing of certain persons' recitations nor visit them readily. But if you do attend, observe gravity and sedateness, and also avoid making yourself disagreeable.

When you are going to meet with any person, and particularly one of those who are considered to be in a superior condition, place before yourself what Socrates or Zeno would have done in such circumstances, and you will have no difficulty in making a proper use of the occasion.

When you are going to any of those who are in great power, place before yourself that you will not find the man at home, that you will be excluded, that the door will not be opened to you, that the man will not care about you. And if with all this it is your duty to visit him, bear what happens, and never say to yourself that it was not worth the trouble. For this is silly, and marks the character of a man who is offended by externals.

Here we have an example of negative visualisation: thinking through the possible ways that an important meeting can go wrong in order to prepare yourself.

In company take care not to speak much and excessively about your own acts or dangers: for as it is pleasant to you to make mention of your dangers, it is not so pleasant to others to hear what has happened to you. Take care also not to provoke laughter; for this is a slippery way toward vulgar habits, and is also adapted to diminish the respect of your neighbors. It is a dangerous habit also to approach obscene talk. When, then, anything of this kind happens, if there is a good opportunity, rebuke the man who has proceeded to this talk: but if there is not an opportunity, by your silence at least, and blushing and expression of dissatisfaction by your countenance, show plainly that you are displeased at such talk.

This is again a hard one for me, particularly not trying to provoke laughter. And Epictetus is right: it's a bad place to be, and a habit I'm trying to break.

Although I think it loses a lot of the nuance and insight of Stoic thought, this is a pretty decent list of behaviours to get you started on the path to Stoicism.

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