Epictetus – You Talkin About Me?!!

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I begin my introduction to Epictetus with a little insightful humour! What better way to challenge the value-laden perspective that philosophical inquiry is heavy, jargon-loaded, inaccessible gibberish than to demonstrate the contrary! Be gone Aristophanes!!!

In his Enchiridion, Epictetus says:

“If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, “He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone.”

So someone speaks ill of you. This often gets under our skin, we feel indignant, and we are often consumed by feelings of unrest, that can spur actions of retaliation. Stop. Take a breath. Step back. Think. What does it really matter that others speak ill of you? If it is not true, then it should not consume you, since you know who you really are, and should take pride and experience gratitude in self for maintaining standards of integrity that speak to your sense of purpose and value. If true, then be thankful for the opportunity to address your own way of thinking and change the manner in which you live, thereby also perhaps altering (at least eventually) your public image.

You might object that this person shouldn’t get away with such things; it’s just not right! Indeed, you might wish to speak out to such a person to set them straight but this will be as useful as their own ability to rationally and open-mindedly consider his/her defaming words. Where motives are of retribution, fuelled by self-loathing, anger, jealousy and the like there is little chance of success. Where this person’s rational sensibilities have been compromised by biases imported from the influence of hearsay that lays heavily upon his/her mind, words of reason will fail him/her. It is beyond your control then to address and change his/her way of thinking…for the time being. Hence, sound advice to self is to simply let go of a loosing game that will only spur feelings of frustration and your own suffering.

Remind yourself also that we are all fallible, limited, fragile and weak beings. If it were not for this one thing, there would certainly be, indeed there are, others of which s/he could have spoken! Humility in one’s comportment of self goes a long way to defusing defaming words, for once you own how weak and limited you are, the desire that you never be criticized seeps into oblivion, leaving you in peace!

But mostly, Epictetus speaks to a cheerful, humorous retort that would assuredly disarm your “adversary”! Rather than take offence, respond with self-depreciation! This will likely humiliate, and vilify them, showing them up for their smallness, their pettiness. Your humour will surely get a chuckle from on-listeners, but you too will, in experiencing the comical, also be freed from potential unrest, and join in on a good hearty laugh!

A strategy that is more likely to work than not! But at what cost? And are all defaming words equal? Indeed, are all sources of deprecation equal? Slander can have devastating effects on one’s life. In business it can cost you your livelihood, in politics it can shift sentiments, public opinion, and alter the socio-economic landscape. In one’s personal life it could cost you your job, a reputation you spent decades building, and/or the respect of your loved ones. What then of the source? Were a colleague to spread false rumours one would likely be angered, but it would not compare to the despair s/he’d experience at the hands of a loved one, an intimate, trusted life partner, who’d concocted lies. Betrayal weighs heavily and is as intensely lived as the depth and measure of it’s inter-discursive evolution. Shall we in all cases, indiscriminately, and simply remind ourselves that attachments are a futile aspiration and that it matters not who and why caustic exhortations find you? The impact on the modality of inter-dialogical affairs would alter significantly, bearing marks far more akin to instrumentalism than those of infinite discovery in the ceaseless process of becoming.


2 thoughts on “Epictetus – You Talkin About Me?!!

  1. Re: ‘Rather than take offence, respond with self-depreciation!’

    But what about Montaigne’s remark?:

    ‘Don’t discuss yourself, for you are bound to lose; if you belittle yourself, you are believed; if you praise yourself, you are disbelieved’.

    ‘Essais’, 1595.

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    1. Always context specific, my friend! Epictetus would contend that care for appearances is quite beyond our control and hence irrational to seek to alter. Of course, I’m not a stoic myself, even if I appreciate some of the more practical advise.

      Like

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