March 12, 2017 – Seeing Things As the Person at Fault Does


“Whenever someone has done wrong by you, immediately consider what notion of good or evil they had in doing it. For when you see that, you’ll feel compassion, instead of astonishment or rage. For you may yourself have the same notions of good and evil, or similar ones, in which case you’ll make allowance for what they’ve done. But if you no longer hold the same notions, you’ll be more readily gracious for their error.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 7.26

I want to share the questions that close this meditation.

How much more tolerant and understanding would you be today if you could see the actions of other people as attempts to do the right thing? Whether you agree or not, how radically would this lens change your perspective on otherwise offensive or belligerent actions?

In Roger T. Ames’ book Confucian Role Ethics, A Vocabulary, he presents the question (p 163) of how a son should cover for his father, and a father for his son. The heart of the question lies in role ethics and justice. Let’s assume a father steals something and his son witnesses it. The son could go to the authorities and have his father arrested, or he could confront his father and allow him to make good on this act which soils the father’s virtue. Which is the appropriate thing to do? From a Confucian role ethics perspective, the community is better served through retribution done so that relationships are not severed. I read this as a distinction between State law as coercive, the laws which we truly choose to live by.

What if our first thought wasn’t to seek vengeance or justice against those who have harmed us? Obviously, there are measures of extremes and at times such extremes might find us less willing to understand the “why”. But we can take this quote to be more in line with someone who thinks what they’re doing is right, and that right thing is in conflict with our right thing. It’s not giving into a passion because we feel slighted. Not assuming we are the direct target of the act or words.

It boils down to us being aware that others have reasons for the things they do. If we have such an awareness, we may find that we value the relationship above all else because we seek to observe from an others eyes. Isn’t this also a type of freedom?

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March 11, 2017 – Living Without Restriction


“The unrestricted person, who has in hand what they will in all events, is free. But anyone who can be restricted, coerced, or pushed into something against what they will is a slave.” – Epictetus, Discourses, 4.1.128b-129a

I’m going to dig into my bag of bands, again. This time we’re touching down in the 80’s. The band is The Bolshoi, and the song is “Someone’s Daughter” from their album “Friends”.

I wish I knew the secret of success
Then I could laugh about it, I could say I couldn’t care less
I don’t want to wait for the dinner plate (No Way)
Is there any hope for the record plate (Today)
I don’t see no sign, I don’t see no sign
I just got to get out there and find the thing and make it mine

Oh, here it comes again that old feeling
I’ve had since I don’t know when, don’t ask me to explain, no
I’m no different, I’m the same, yes
There was once a time when I knew how to (Do Things)
I just don’t care, very debonair (No Strings)
I’ve had lesson one, I’ve had lesson one
If you get half of what you want out of this life, you’re lucky son

So much to be unpacked. First, if we’re looking for signs to tell us what to do, we’re living under restrictions. Second, if we’re waiting for permission to launch ourselves into the hands of fate, we’re living under restrictions. Lastly, do we really want to be in a position where we feel lucky to get half of what we want out of this life?

In 4.1 Epictetus uses the example of being a Senator, while still being a slave. He asks:

[17] Were you never ordered by your beloved to do something that you didn’t want to do? Have you never flattered your little slave? Have you never kissed his feet? And yet, if you were compelled to kiss Caesar’s feet, you’d regard that as an outrage and the height of tyranny. Is slavery anything other than that, then?

The key here is to understand what it means to do something you don’t want to do. In the time of Epictetus, slaves performed many tasks that allowed freemen higher pursuits. Some slaves were treated well, so well that they were allowed to keep some of the money made from labor. Others were treated like a piece of property. The very idea of kissing a slave’s feet implies an act of freedom, where kissing Caesar’s is more of a demand. There is a significant difference in doing something for someone you love as an order, and doing it because you want to make them happy even if you would rather be elsewhere.

What burden does restriction put upon us? How should we oppose it? He defines the want of freedom in very extreme terms.

[29] That is why we call free only those animals that won’t put up with captivity, but escape through death as soon as they’re captured.

It’s an important question to ask: how am I living? Am I aware of what I’m giving up for the nice car, house, and other material trappings? Am I forced to march to the orders of someone in charge, or am I being led by someone who appreciates my voice? Who respects me?

When we value freedom above things our world, and live, surely has greater meaning.

March 10, 2017 – Find Yourself a Cato


“We can remove most sins if we have a witness standing by as we are about to go wrong. The soul should have someone it can respect, by whose example it can make its inner sanctum more inviolable. Happy is the person who can improve others, not only when present, but even when in their thoughts!” – Seneca, Moral Letters, 11.9

Happy is the person who can improve others. It’s as if this meditation knew how I would end my observations on the previous meditation. A broken clock being what it is…

Accountability groups. I first heard this term at a men’s event at a church. The suggestion was for the men, after the event was over, to make time to meet at least once a month. At these meetings, they could share with the group whatever challenges, or successes, that came their way. It would create not only closeness but also would develop a sense of trust.

Cato is used as the title of this meditation because he was considered a bold and brave individual. He stood up to Julius Ceasar, was known for not taking bribes, and was generally incorruptible. Seneca is reminding us that we all need a Cato. Someone we trust to hold us accountable. Someone we would not want to disappoint even when they are not present.

We may find that in doing so we become Cato’s for others.

March 9, 2017 – Find the Right Scene


“Above all, keep a close watch on this – that you are never so tied to your former acquaintances and friends that you are pulled down to their level. If you don’t you’ll be ruined . . . you must choose whether to be loved by these friends and remain the same person, or to become a better person at the cost of those friends . . . if you try to have it both ways you will neither make progress nor keep what you once had.” – Epictetus, Discourses, 4.2.1;4-5
My daughter recently asked me what I thought made a good marriage. I told her it’s the friendship of two people who are committed to making each other better people. But this isn’t isolated to marriage. In general, friendship is best when those we choose to spend time with those who elevate us above our present state.
In The Analects, Confucius writes:
9.25   The Master said, “Take doing your utmost (zhong) and making good on your word (xin) as your mainstay. Do not befriend anyone who is not as good as you are. And where you have gone astray, do not hesitate to mend your ways.”

Understanding the Chinese words will benefit this meditation. Zhong can be understood as loyalty in one’s duties. In this context, it’s doing the best in whatever one does, not one’s best in a specific task. Xin can only be achieved through proper relationships. For us to be trustworthy there must be someone who trusts us. It speaks directly to the value of friendship.

It is debatable what Confucius is asking of us when he tells us who to befriend. Considering his emphasis on defining the self through relationships I do not see him asking us to disassociate from those beneath us. Friendship, in this instance, is the pinnacle relationships in the hierarchy of relationships. Friendship should be understood apart from acquaintances or colleagues. Does this sound harsh? Maybe, but is it lacking truth? If our friendships are predicated on mutually improving each other then those friendships will not be lost. Acquaintances may come and go, and we shouldn’t treat them with any less respect, but friendships are those relationships which are lasting.

Another truth: Change is inevitable. We will either change for the better, or for the worse. If our friends become bothered by positive changes (with the reciprocal being as true) we will find ourselves with the decision to remain as they want us or to move on.

In the same section Epictetus also writes:

4.3: Choose, then, which you prefer: to be held in the same affection as before by your former friends by remaining as you used to be, or else become better than you were and no longer meet with the same affection.

We must be aware of who we are letting into our lives, and what their influence is on us. Equally, we must be aware of how we are influencing others.

 

March 8, 2017 -Don’t Unintentionally Hand Over Your Freedom


“If a person gave away your body to some passerby, you’d be furious. Yet you hand over your mind to anyone who comes along, so they may abuse you, leaving it disturbed and troubled – have you no shame in that?” – Epictetus, Enchiridon, 28

I’ve been told on more than one occasion, and by numerous people, that I overthink things. At times they are surely correct, but equally, at times, they are not. Some things demand extra consideration.

This meditation leverages social media as an example of how we allow our minds to be controlled by others. We willingly open ourselves up to suggestion and repetition. Do we think so much of ourselves, that we are so strong to overcome these attacks? Even the strongest soldier or athlete knows when to turn away in order to protect the body. It isn’t a weakness to unfollow a feed or to delete an application.

We’ve seen this theme repeated in the both “Clarity” and “Passions and Emotions”. Know what is influencing your mind. Don’t allow your mind to get caught in extremes. And now, be aware of what you’re losing.

The term “Fake News” is a perfect example of this. We have a single individual, and frankly, a group of individuals, claiming that which opposes them is “Fake News”. At times they are qualifying exactly what the reliable news sources are, and conveniently they are sources favorable to them. First, fake is being misused. News sources may focus on specific aspects or perspective, but to claim the information is constructed requires actual evidence. Second, when attempting to suppress a source as reliable without evidence, this is where one gets dangerously close to propaganda. Lastly, none of this matters if those who consume the information are not being led without thinking.

We should be ashamed of ourselves if we are not considering, in this example, the very sources supplying the information. Those in power would be grateful if we gave our minds to them.

Don’t.

March 7, 2017 – Don’t Trust The Senses


“Heraclitus called self-deception an awful disease and eyesight a lying sense.” – Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, 9.7

Diogenes Laertius was a biographer of philosophers. One who recorded was Diogenes of Sinope (don’t ever confuse your Diogeneses). The latter, the story is told, walked around Athens during daylight holding a lamp, and looking for an honest man.

Heraclitus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. While he believed that all things were a product of fire, he also held the opinion that all things are in flux. As Plato writes:

Heraclitus, I believe, says that all things pass and nothing stays, and comparing existing things to the flow of a river, he says you could not step twice into the same river. (Plato Cratylus 402a = A6)

This played into Heraclitus’ position on knowledge. Due to the flux of the experiential world. He does not claim that we cannot know, but he does claim that most don’t learn what they should be learning. His words ring true today, that people are focused more on gathering information than understanding it.

Knowledge of self is no different. If we spend our time experiencing without understanding the experiences what good are we? As our senses are that which gives us an experience we must ensure mental awareness of these experiences. Everything we consume defines who we are, and if everything is in flux then we must be aware of these changes to the outside world and ourselves.

March 6, 2017 – Don’t Tell Yourself Stories


“In public avoid talking excessively about your accomplishments and dangers, for however much you enjoy recounting your dangers, it’s not so pleasant for others to hear about your affairs.” – Epictetus, Enchiridion,u 33.14

How confident are that our memory will not fail us? As we age our memory gets worse, but even before that the truth is we cannot recall with 100% accuracy anything that we’ve experienced. Ken Eisold, Ph.D. writes (source):

…neuroscientists have shown that each time we remember something, we are reconstructing the event, reassembling it from traces throughout the brain. Psychologists have pointed out that we also suppress memories that are painful or damaging to self-esteem. We could say that, as a result, memory is unreliable.

The words of Epictetus should be observed with discipline and repeated with frequency. While you might think your adventure is awesome, others may not care. Consider the most amazing thing you’ve ever done or experienced. What makes it great? The story or being situated in the story?

The key word above is “excessive”. Sharing our lives is what allows for that social side of us to flourish. It helps us create relationships by finding common likes or experiences. No one wants to hear someone else ramble on about what they’ve done or seen, but what adds greater weight to this is our inability to recall the stories with accuracy. Can we be sure we aren’t enhancing for dramatic effect? Is there a false humility to under-telling the story?

The more we talk about ourselves the more we are seen as braggarts. When we do this we fail to be aware of how we are being perceived. Irene Scopelleti writes (source):

“Most people probably realize that they experience emotions other than pure joy when they are on the receiving end of someone else’s self-promotion. Yet, when we engage in self-promotion ourselves, we tend to overestimate others’ positive reactions and underestimate their negative ones.”

It truly is a double edged sword. Braggart, and possibly too a liar.