Even though I generally like the wisdom of the ancient Stoics, I don’t always agree with them. Some of their teachings or wisdom simply need to be put into perspective. Or need to be put into context. Today I am concerned with such an example from Eptiktet. In ‘Enchiridion’ he writes:
‘Remember: it is not the person who has it in for you and attacks you who harms you – no, the harm comes only from how you think about this mistreatment. So when someone causes you anger, remember that it is your own opinion that is causing the anger. Instead, your first reaction should be not to be overwhelmed by such impressions, for with enough time and distance, self-control is much more easily attained.’ Epictetus
What he means by this is straightforward and can also be found in esoteric teachings: things, circumstances or events are not good or evil in themselves; good or bad. Rather, they only become good or bad events through your assessment, through your judgement, through your thinking and feeling.
This does not primarily mean the content of our reaction. For example, whether we react positively or negatively to an event. But also whether you register the event at all, whether you participate in it.
For example, if someone leaves you a hate comment on Facebook, but you don’t read it: does the hate comment exist for you at all? No, because you are not participating in this ‘event’.
If a large company makes a few million in profit, this is something different than if you win a few million in the lottery. Because your context, your relation to this event is different.
If a colleague writes you an angry email, it is up to you how you deal with that email. How you evaluate it. What judgement you give her. Whether it is good or bad – for you.
In the end, it’s our response to events that gives them a classification of good or bad. Ultimately, YOU are the one who makes an evil event an evil event. Or makes a good one into a good one.
Mostly. Because here you have to put Epictetus into perspective and notice that there are events that do not become negative only because of a person’s reaction. Wars, violence per se are certainly among them. Epictetus did not mean such events when he spoke of ‘attacks’.
Apart from that, I think the basic stoic wisdom is true: the world is what YOU do with it. Good or bad: is mostly in your consideration.