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.

January 27, 2017 – The Three Areas of Training


“There are three areas in which the person who would be wise and good must be trained. The first has to do with desires and aversions – that a person may never miss the mark nor fall into what repels them. The second has to do with impulses to act and not to act – and more broadly, with duty – that a person may act deliberately for good reasons and not carelessly. The third has to do with freedom from deception and composure and the whole area of judgment, the assent our mind gives to our perceptions. Of these areas, the chief and most urgent is the first which has to do with the passions, for strong emotions arise only when we fail in our desires and aversions.” – Epictetus, Discourses, 3.2.1-3a

I am a “Friends” fan. My family, in fact, enjoy the series with equal passion. We own the catalog on DVD and will pour through seasons on Netflix regularly. When Thanksgiving comes to town we will watch all the Thanksgiving episodes. Call it a family tradition.

What does “Friends” have to do with Stoic philosophy? I want to use episode 5.15, The One with the Girl Who Hits Joey, to make a point about strong emotions and how we can make poor decisions based on how we deal with them. In this episode, Chandler and Monica are a public couple, but Chandler has managed to anger Monica, through his relationship immaturity, leaving Chandler confused about how to smooth things over. His solution, propose to her.

Rachel: Do you really think the best reason to get married is because you’re sorry?

Chandler: Well, no, the best reason to get married is pregnancy. Sorry’s about fourth, behind being ready and actually wanting to get married.

Passion, unmanaged, can lead us to disaster. In my late teens, I made a car purchase that was beyond unreasonable, but I wanted the car so badly. I assumed an interest rate that was insane. The dealership saw a young kid whose sole focus was owning this car. Sitting in front of the finance manager, I must have been flanked by every person in the dealership. The pressure was on me to sign, and sitting alone I had no one to slap me to consciousness.

Epictetus asks us to consider three critical pieces. First, what are these things we desire, second, why are we acting upon these desires, and lastly have we determined good reasons to act upon these desires. As he tells us, we must know what to commit to and what to avoid. If we fall into something bad, an impulsive marriage or high car payment, we are already a step behind. Thankfully these three areas are intertwined, and we can salvage our situation through proper judgment and right action.

But it’s always better to avoid the tar pit.

Getting By With A Little Help From My Friends


Image courtesy of http://www.cbc.ca/sevenwonders/

One of the difficult things about being a cynic are those moments of beauty which, like a religious experience, cannot be explained away. The moment washes over you and even upon reflection the desire to redefine it is absent of any appeal. When this happens the cynic can only smile and appreciate the hope which on other days would escape him. How can the mirror serve as a companion after this? Has it not become a judge which silently interrogates him at every glance? The poor cynic must forget, falling back on the comfort of his doubt and turn his gaze from every reflection.

And still his friends stand their guard.

This is a small celebration of their solidarity. This is a thank you. From the hallowed walls of Facebook, my timeline reads these. Some are direct or funny while others have a history or underlying meaning which requires explanation.  For example, when you read Chris Gandy’s it must be within the context of a fellow cynic returning the cursed blessings of the abyss we call Facebook. That he returned and “friended” me was a comical sigh of relief. Wade Baugher’s is one which has a nice depth to it.

Don’t get me started on the great pictures!

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Facebook for the Common Good


...And everything feels good for a while.

I want to recognize my friend Liza Van Arsdale-Mitchell for her recent utilization of Facebook to promote goodness. She posted the following:

Special request to kids returning to school in the next few days: If you see someone who is struggling to make friends or being bullied because he/she doesn’t have many friends, because they are shy or not as pretty or not dressed in the most “in” clothes – PLEASE step up. Say hi or at least smile at them in the hallway. You never know what that person might be facing outside of school. Your kindness might just make a BIG difference in someone’s life!

While I am not so old that I do not recall the uncomfortable nature of adolescence and the strong desire to fit in, I also recall moments in which I decided to go against the grain and simply do something because it was good and right. But for the grace of (G)od my children or your children will find acceptance within a group that promotes success and unity.

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