Let's Read Epictetus: Enchiridion #14

Epictetus starts this chapter in bracing fashion, calling us foolish if we want our children or wife to be immortal. Of course he realizes that we don't think this way, but that people in general tend to worry about our loved ones. He goes on to say we are naive if we expect our slave to be honest. Hopefully none of the readers of this blog have any slaves, but this would apply roughly to employees to employers to retail establishments. We cannot avoid meeting with death and dishonestly in this life, along with many other unpleasant things. 

We can avoid disappointment by focusing our efforts on what is within our control. If we desire only what is within our control, then we cannot be disappointed, for no one will be able to keep those things away from us. "If you would be free, then, do not wish to have, or avoid, things that other people control, because then you must serve as their slave."

These are hard, uncompromising words. The world around us is outside of our control, from the lives of our loved ones to the person who cuts us off in traffic to the unfriendly waitress at the restaurant. We cannot have our desire set on not meeting with death, dishonestly, cheating, rudeness, etc. These things are outside our control. Trying to control death or other people is delusional. We can only control our intentions. If we will desire virtue, and focus on that, then we will be free. 

I've been trying to apply this in traffic. So often someone will cut me off and I will get angry, sometimes very angry. But this is wanting something that is outside of my control! I cannot control other people, so wanting that everyone who ever drives in my vicinity to behave properly is just silly. It doesn't matter that they shouldn't do it. Of course they shouldn't. But I can only control myself. Furthermore, when I get angry at strangers in this way I am putting them in charge of my happiness, tranquility, and freedom. 

I still have the initial feelings of anger come up, but I am trying to remember the simple truth that they are outside my control, and that I want to be free. So I will focus on what I can control and desire that.