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Exploring Encheiridion 10 – Episode 41


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In all circumstances keep in mind to turn in to yourself and ask what resources you have for dealing with these things. If you see a good-looking man or woman, you will find self-control the appropriate power; if pain afflicts you, you will find endurance; if rudeness, you will find patience. By developing these habits, you will not be carried away by your first impressions. (Ench 10) While this passage deals directly with the discipline of assent, it also entails the disciplines of desire and action. When we pull this passage apart, we get a glimpse into how quickly assents to impressions can create desires and aversions and lead to impulses to act. The primary point of this lesson from Epictetus is to show us we possess the resources necessary to stop the quick progression from assent to impulse to act. Epictetus highlights three impressions in this passage and provides specific resources we can use to deal with each. Here’s the process as it applies in each of these three examples: In Step 1, an impression presses itself upon our mind. All of the impressions listed in this passage arise from sources external to our mind. I just saw a good-looking man or woman I feel a pain in my body, or I’m facing some other hardship. I just encountered a rude person. In Step 2, we immediately attach a value judgment to that impression: That good-looking man or woman is something “good” for me. That pain in my body is something “bad” for me. That person’s rude behavior is “bad” for me. In Step 3, that judgment creates a desire or aversion and a subsequent impulse to act. I desire that good-looking man or woman; I’m going to reach out to them. I fear this pain in my body or this hardship; I’m going to avoid it. That rude person offended me; I’m going make them stop, or I’m going to retaliate. If we were sages, we wouldn’t get past Step 1 because we would not place the value judgment on the impression. However, we are not sages, and neither were Epictetus’ students. That is why he is informing us we possess powers or resources we can use to interrupt this sequence after we’ve assented to the value judgment and before the impulse to act leads us into bad behavior. Before I tackle each of these examples, I want to make one point clear. Epictetus’ goal for this lesson is to help us develop habits that prevent us from being carried away by impressions into a state of emotional distress (pathos). The goal is not to turn us into Dr. Spoke-like, emotionless, disconnected observers of events. Epictetus is not telling us we should not find a good-looking man or woman attractive. He is not telling us to ignore the pain in our bodies or the effects of hardships. He is not telling us to be oblivious to rude behavior. Instead, Epictetus teaches us we have resources within ourselves to judge these impressions correctly and respond appropriately. This lesson is important because we frequently allow the initial judgment of an impression to carry us away and cause us to spiral out of control emotionally. Too often, this leads to an entirely inappropriate response. With that in mind, let’s look at each of the impressions Epictetus uses in this lesson and how we can use the resources we have to deal with them. The good-looking man or woman Let’s start with the impression of a good-looking man or woman. Observing and appreciating beauty is natural. There is nothing wrong with observing a man or woman and assenting to the judgment they are good-looking. Nature created us to appreciate beauty. The problem starts when we allow that first impression and initial judgment of beauty to carry us away with desire. We are mistaken if we assent to the impression that having that good-looking man or woman as a life companion or sexual partner is “good” and will bring us well-being (happiness). Their presence in our life could be a preferred indifferent at best. Alternatively,

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