March 25, 2017 – Wealth and Freedom Are Free


” . . . freedom isn’t secured by filling up on your heart’s desire but by removing your desire.” – Epictetus, Discourses, 4.1.175

Sometimes I think I’ve learned more from my children than what I’ve taught them. Often I come home and my daughter is singing in her room (she’s a vocal student at a local art school). My son is presently on Spring Break in Oregon, visiting his friends who work on a farm. He’s working for the week and doing some rock climbing. These are their desires, and while they have a passion for them it does not own them. I worry that it’s so because they are still young, and not soured by the world like this writer. I write the latter with a comedic tone.

My point is, and maybe this is what the youth can remind us, that the moment is what is special. We can have our goals. We can let our passions drive us. We can allow our desires to give us character. What we cannot do is let them own us to the disposal of all else.

Earlier in section 4.1, Epictetus writes:

[77] “For that which is not in your power to procure or keep as you wish is not your own.”

It is a common them, but surely important enough to be repetitive. The future is undetermined. One cannot lose what one never had.

When I was driving my son to Orlando for his flight we had the misfortune of getting stuck behind an accident that left us motionless on the interstate for over an hour. By the time the accident was cleared, and all involved were taken to be cared for, we had no hope of making the flight. In spite of the facts limiting us by physics, my vehicle, and the laws of Florida, we continued, arriving just as the plane’s doors were closing. While we were stopped I thought about my Stoic readings. I reminded myself that this could have both happened and not happened. That did not completely suppress the frustration at the circumstance. Was this event caused by a true accident, or was someone texting and driving?

While quietly in thought my son spoke. “If I had just arrived on time we would have missed this. But I hope everyone is ok. Someone may have lost someone they loved. I just missed a plane.” My reply: “Had we left earlier it might have been us.”

He booked another flight, and two days later I dropped him off at the airport. We did, however, leave an extra hour early. That gave me a total of 6.5 hours in a car with my son who I don’t see as often as I’d like. That made me feel very rich from the experience.

March 24, 2017 – There Is Philosophy in Everything


“Eat like a human being, drink like a human being, dress up, marry, have children, get politically active – suffer abuse, bear with a headstrong brother, father, son, neighbor, or companion. Show us these things so we can see that you have truly learned from the philosophers.” – Epictetus, Discourses, 3.21.5-6

I recently had a conversation with a close friend who I also work with. We were discussing the role of religion in a secular state (America) when he attempted to qualify what it meant to be secular, along with what it meant to be Christian. Up to this point, the conversation has been pleasant, but he was now drifting into a very dogmatic territory. For him, the secular was framed with being able to do anything one wanted, and Christianity itself was very rigid in how it should be approached. He expressed the latter with the words, “I’ve read the Bible and it says…”. It was that statement which brought my question of how he handles Christians who disagree with his theological position. Those who, for example, find problems in how the Church historically treats the Gay community, and even more “heretical”, find the idea of Hell to be theologically unfounded? His response was that 100% of the people he surrounded himself with, regarding his faith community, agreed with him.

One of my favorite bands, Adam Again (they happen to be a Christian band), have a song called “Worldwide” from the album Dig with this telling lyric:

Don’t think I’ll ever understand it
Don’t think it matters if I do
Three billion people in the world
And I only know a few

If a primary question for philosophers is “How do I live?”, we must conclude that to answer this question we must live. We cannot surround ourselves with like-minded people, or removed from others. I’m of the opinion this is what Epictetus is asking of us. Make life a participatory event. Create relationships. Learn from others. I cannot know how to be a father unless I first have a child. I cannot know how to love unless I have a subject, or object, of love. How can I understand how to be a politician unless I first come to know what others need?

A closing anecdote. I spent years somewhat hostile towards all religious systems. There was this idea that the texts which informed their followers had an absolute sentiment to the words. To put it a different way, I was very dogmatic about my loathing for dogmatism. Once I distanced myself from not wanting to be around religious people I was able to discover the nuances of how the texts were approached. Once I quit reading material that validated my existing beliefs on religion, I began to see just how complicated, and beautiful, being human is. Honestly, it all started when I, again, began living like a philosopher.

Maybe the most important takeaway from this meditation is that we are all philosophers.

March 22, 2017 – The Sign of True Education


“What is it then to be properly educated? It is learning to apply our natural preconceptions to the right things according to Nature, and beyond that to separate the things that lie within our power from those that don’t.” – Epictetus, Discourses, 1.22.9-10a

My friend Brian Niece recently invited me to be a guest on his podcast called Reimagining. The subject of the podcast was friendship. Brian and I met while he was co-pastor at the church my wife attended, and have since become very close. We share a love for critical thinking, and in spite of our differing positions on the existence of, or access to, a deity, we have more in common than not. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Humanities while I pursue my masters in philosophy.

I share this brief bit of history to put in context how much we both value education but with a rub. As we discussed how thinkers like Aristotle and Confucius defined friendship the conversation settled into how relationships can be lost because of differing opinions and beliefs. How we cease to see the other as someone who holds convictions as passionately as we do. At times the arrogance of being educated, or well read, deceives one into thinking that is the pinnacle of being educated. It’s not. The pinnacle of being educated centers around the knowledge, but also knowing how to use it so you don’t lose friends in the process.

Approaching this meditation from the position that humans are social animals, that relationships are the foundation of how we come to know the world and ourselves, it is inconsistent to call one’s self “properly educated” if the education does not entail an acceptance that it’s only as good as how it can be shared. We must be aware or relationships afford us access to others so that we can share what we know, and in turn learn from what they know.

Our power is in having the right perspective. We must be aware that the other also has that power. It is equally true that as we learn, so do they. We cannot force it on someone, but we can ensure, through friendship, a consistent access.