As you are too young to fully understand the realities of life -- or perhaps you do and that people in general have become so disillusioned with matters over time that they equate failure with reality -- you seem to expect things to happen as they should instead of things happening as they do. You speak your mind with such force and succinctness as what needs to be accomplished will be accomplished, if only we put mind and muscle to it. And sure enough we do and it gets accomplished.
Your cheerfulness and confidence are infectious as always, and it seems that I am catching it quite regularly. You assume that things simply work out, never mind the behind the scene, inner workings. Things work as you profess they should, and lo and behold they do. I am satisfied and happy with making things work for you, because someday you will make things work for so many people around the world.
"Most of all, the work of nature is this: to make desire and impulse to act fit closely with what is appropriate and useful." Musonius
Nobody questions whether a tiger's actions are natural. It can quietly sleep all day long or suddenly attack to kill a deer. Everything that a tiger does is what it is supposed to do, no more no less. So, too, the deer. Whether it is able to outrun the tiger or gets captured and eaten, the deer acts in harmony with nature. Yet this is not always the case with human beings. In comparison with even wild beasts, we are the least natural.
The reason is quite simple: too often people erroneously attempt to control what is uncontrollable. They try to guess what someone else is thinking and what someone else is about to do. Not surprisingly, they would get it wrong. That is because everyone doesn't think exactly alike. Since all people have different past experiences, they also have different beliefs, preferences, and tendencies. On top of getting things wrong, people also worry about what someone else might think and do. When this happens, their minds are clouded by strong emotions and thus cannot see and evaluate accurately the true situation.
Furthermore, because of people's ability to imagine the future, they erroneously think they can accurately forecast the future. There are an infinite amount of factors and variables that affect the future. One cannot possibly account for them all to formulate the correct calculation. As such, people waste the present by trying to act according to the future. If they guess wrong -- and often they do guess wrong -- not only will they be in an unfavorable position in the future but also will waste even more time by complaining and wallowing in their own misery. And so they would worry twice as much, making a bad situation worse.
On the other hand, what is natural is our adventurous attempt to control what is truly controllable: our own thoughts and actions right at this present moment. Instead of focusing on what other people are thinking and doing, be most concerned about what you are thinking and what you are doing. Nobody can necessarily fault you if someone thinks poorly of you or tries to hurt you. Many of history's heroes are filled with unrighteous enemies who irrationally hate them and try to destroy them. However, people can indeed blame you for thinking mean and devious thoughts and behaving in an unkind or dishonest manner. In addition, nobody will necessarily fault you for being wrong about the future, but they can indeed blame you if you behave wrongly or irrationally at this present moment.
Therefore, if you treated everyone with fairness and promoted justice, for example, nothing that even the entire world does can deny what you did. What people do belongs to them. What you do belongs to yourself. Now would you rather own something that is filled with anger and selfishness, or do you want to own something that is filled with devotion and nobility?
If you only think about your own observations, understanding, and actions, you will always be right. You need not guess at what you just saw, learned, or did -- or even what you will see, learn, or do -- since you can read your mind, control your muscles, and pinpoint your exact ambition. Thus, when you follow your own path, you are in accordance with nature. When you try to walk in someone else's path, you think and act awkwardly and unskillfully, trying to predict what is essentially unpredictable. You would not be in accordance with nature because you are neither natural nor yourself.
You are as strong and powerful as a tiger. You are also social and gentle like a deer. You are well beyond a tiger or a deer -- you are Epictetus, my beloved son. No one can harm you since you have inner and outer strength, and no one can keep up with your momentum since you are keen and magnanimous. You are far away from dark souls not because you are perturbed by them, but quite the opposite, because you are well far ahead of them. You are in a place that is all your own -- although you now have invited others to come along, too, and to join you in a marvelous life adventure. Hold on to each other's hands firmly and rollick with boundless joy.
"If you choose to hold fast to what is right, do not be irked by difficult circumstances, but reflect on how many things have already happened to you in life in ways that you did not wish, and yet they have turned out for the best." Musonius
Since there are even people who strive and suffer working on endeavors that are illegal and immoral, how much more so would you be willing to strive and suffer working on endeavors that are noble and awe-inspiring? These worthy ventures are not necessarily for others to admire but they are taken to test your endurance and stamina such that you would impress even yourself. For until you have earned the respect of yourself, you cannot assume you can gain the respect of others.
When you have earned your own respect, it is real. Even if you are able to fool everyone, you cannot fool yourself. You know exactly what you are thinking at anytime, how hard you have actually pushed yourself, how you weathered unfairness yet did not lose focus, and whether you were able to resist temptations that overcame you in the past. Even if you did try to fool yourself, you will fail because in the back of your mind, you know it is not real.
However, once you have worked hard, persisted, and finally earned your confidence, you are impervious to the opinions of the world. If someone speaks ill of you, you would discount it immediately because it is so blatantly false. It would be like if someone accuses you of lying and you know you did not, no amount of evidence could possibly satisfy that person, yet you know the entire truth. If it was possible for him to read your mind, you would let him, but he cannot. Indeed you would be more concerned about that person's obvious ignorance than being concerned about yourself, and would try to convince him if possible.
Even if the entire world were to say you are only worth such and such, would you doubt yourself and believe it? No, you would not. You have already tested, realized, and confirmed your value. Your worth is not determined by others and what they think -- since they can be fooled -- but determined by a substantially more reliable source who knows you more than anyone: yourself.
How do you test yourself? By making decisions that are different than the decisions you made in the past under similar circumstances. For example, if you normally gorge on food in the afternoons, make it your goal that you will not do so this afternoon. You will have success if you are patient and not try to do too much all at one time. Like a baby who has never walked before, you cannot run right away, but must concentrate intensely for even taking one small step. It will be difficult at first, but everything worthwhile is difficult at first. If you keep at it, over time it will become easier and more natural.
With each harmful habit replaced by a beneficial routine, you begin to build confidence in your ability to effect change in both yourself and the world around you. You begin to look for more problems to tackle. Perhaps strange to say but you might even run out of problems and now are looking to make the good things in your life even better. Your improvements would be more impressive than mere arithmetic. It would be analogous to starting from being one foot tall to being five feet tall over time. Then if you continue to work hard, you will become six feet tall. You press on and work some more still, neither looking back nor comparing yourself to others, and pretty soon you find yourself seven feet tall. Who is seven feet tall in the world? Not too many people.
So when a person goes to you and say you are short, would you be upset or perturbed? Or would you simply smile and send him on his way? You can try to correct him of his obvious error but one would have to be ready to receive such instruction. From my experience, people who are ready and willing to learn, you cannot keep them away regardless. The more you try to discourage them, the more encouraged they are, since they realize you have what they need.
If you want to safeguard inner strength, be sure to build outer strength as well. Although your soul and mind remain the most important parts of your being, the rest of your body must complement them. Otherwise, the gods would not have given you a body for you to take care of in the first place. Build endurance by not allowing your body to be too soft and affected by hot or cold weather, for example. If you hear yourself complaining about the weather being too hot or too cold, stop yourself immediately. Build stamina by pushing your muscles beyond their normal limit ever so slightly on a regular basis. It should not be painful, but it should not be such that you do not feel the difference either. Never allow the body to dictate where your mind wants to go, and let it be like a trained and disciplined soldier always ready to receive a command.
In summary, take care of you and your life will take care of itself. When circumstances do not work out as planned, you would simply keep on trying like you would try on another pair of shoes since the previous ones did not fit. You would neither expect all shoes to fit perfectly, nor would you expect things in life to work out as you have wished. Therefore, with a strong soul, mind, and body, you would gladly accept the challenge of the way things truly are, not what you wished them to be. Yet you have too much respect to bet against yourself, that in time, what you wished for might very well be what you have earned and worked hard for. In the same way, and proudly so, I have placed my bet squarely on you, Epictetus.
"Just as a physician who prescribes many drugs for his patients deserves less praise than the one who succeeds in helping them with a few, so the philosopher who teaches his pupils with the use of many proofs is less effective than the one who leads them to the desired goal with a few." Musonius
If you are lost and need to ask for directions to go to a specific place, would you prefer a local person to tell you the shortest route to get there, or would you prefer that he tell you many ways of getting there? Life is like a map without showing you where you are, and without showing you how to arrive at your destination once you have decided where you want to go. Philosophy is like a guide who can help you identify the landmarks to ascertain where you are, and then provide you a compass to ensure you are heading in the right direction. You would still need to walk, but each step is progress and has purpose. Unless you choose to, you need not waste one minute by going south when your aim is toward the north.
A tree that produces many fruits aren't always better. Some of them might be inedible or rotting. A tree that is good produces only good fruits. There is no additional labor necessary to separate them from the bad fruits. And although these good fruits might be rare and few, they can command the highest prices. Likewise, succinctness in words is a virtue and is valuable. It takes much greater skill to make complicated things simple than to make simple things complicated. What an emperor wouldn't give for a military general who can convey quick and clear orders to one thousand soldiers and they understand him instantly and perfectly as a result.
When many explanations are offered instead of the appropriate ones for a difficult matter, they don't help those who are perceptive because they would be able to understand it immediately if given simply one good explanation. Furthermore, many explanations don't necessarily help those who are obtuse because they would be baffled by the sheer amount of different explanations for one matter.
Thus, in order to successfully explain a difficult matter, it would be more fitting to only use the plainest and most obvious explanation. And should that be insufficient for those who are still uncertain, then offer the next best explanation. This is analogous to trying to give a hungry person the right amount to eat, and adjusting later if necessary, instead of giving him everything you have available. That would be a waste and risk him choking on the excessive offering.
From a student's perspective, it is your duty to pay attention to what is being taught, not because you need to digest everything you hear, but to be vigilant and ensure you don't fall for things that are often false. Be careful and selective in what you believe is true. When you have accepted an idea is indeed true, then be certain that it wasn't due to a vast number of inferior proofs but rather one or few cogent, irrefutable proofs. But you don't stop there. You would need to continue further by trying to apply and test that idea to your daily life. For only in this way will philosophy be beneficial for you. As such, I will only teach ideas that are in harmony with my conduct.
There are only a few things that make me happier than to uncover and share ideas that are relevant, timely, alive -- and one of those few things is sharing them with you, Epictetus.
"Kings soon perish who make a habit of justifying their actions to the people by saying, 'I have the power,' rather than, 'It is my duty.'" Musonius
When people criticize a king's behavior, they usually can't fathom that they, too, might have done the same if given similar circumstances. For some people, they don't engage in debauchery not because they have the proper character but because they simply do not have the opportunity. However, that does not justify a king for being lax with his standard of conduct. If he doesn't have self-control, how could he effectively pass laws and direct the people to have self-control? Furthermore, if he doesn't know how to have self-control, he cannot demonstrate to the people that it is possible to acquire self-control, that it is natural and expected, and thus reap one of the main benefits of leadership: influence.
How can you gain leadership? By following philosophy. In this case, you must be a good follower before you can be a good leader. With philosophy, you understand justice and treat everyone fairly, which is a mark of sound leadership. Everyone agrees with each other on what is black or white, hot or cold, hard or soft. But in more complicated matters, some people without the insight of philosophy will disagree, and so it is an issue of ignorance. Do not automatically think you are free from such ignorance. You will need philosophy and to train with rigor to ensure you can make wise leadership decisions that indeed promote justice and fairness.
Putting philosophy into practice is hard at first, to unlearn bad habits and replace them with good ones, but with diligence and persistence, it becomes easier with time. A woman who is introduced to philosophy and trained in the same way will be equally capable and can achieve the same results.
With philosophy, you also understand that death and hardship are not evils. And with this understanding, what is there left to fear? It gives you courage, the type of boldness that you need when you inevitably run into problems and resistance trying to effect positive change in your world. You need to be able to outwit and outcompete enemies who would block your way and possibly harm others for their own benefit. You must be convincing enough to guide people toward a better place and away from trouble. As such, there is nothing more convincing than your consistent proper conduct and the good fruits provided from your labor -- all possible because of philosophy.
If one is a philosopher and therefore a good person, that person is by default a leader, an example worth following. A doctor is still a doctor if he only treats one patient instead of one thousand patients. A musician is still a musician if he performs in front of an audience of only one person and not one thousand people. A horse trainer is still a horse trainer if he trains only one horse rather than one thousand horses. Likewise, an individual who can lead one troubled person to improvement has the ability to show people the right way and thus is a competent leader. If he doesn't lead an entire nation, it is not because he isn't capable but because he simply does not have the opportunity.
Even if you don't want to lead, Epictetus, you can still use philosophy to improve yourself. Since you have acquired that capability, which is required for leadership, you are always ready when needed. Then once you feel the sense of duty to serve, you can fulfill that need. In my opinion, this is why Socrates said that philosophy is appropriate for either a king or a citizen, because that king would be a proper king and that citizen would be a proper citizen. Both would have good character, good knowledge, and done good works. They can serve as good role models for others to follow, and therefore can make inspiring, effective, and benevolent leaders.
"There is no other reason for becoming good than to be happy and live a blessed life thereafter." Musonius
Pursuing wisdom is an admirable endeavor but keep working hard once you find one of its treasures -- pick up a shovel and start digging. Do not be like those who profess to be philosophers but expound concepts without producing anything tangible from them. What is the point of experts knowing what to say but not what to do? Isn't a book filled with Chrysippus's maxims worth very little?
Everybody inevitably experiences pain trying to reach one's goal. A person can experience pain striving to reach a goal through various actions, some fruitful, many inadequate. Or a person can experience pain talking about an unfulfilled goal because he never took that first step or didn't finish what was required. He can keep reminding himself to do such and such but it would be for naught.
Becoming a person of good character is much the same way. You can talk about being good, or you can just be good. All the fine words of a scholarly tome written by the world's greatest thinkers cannot match one person doing one simple good act.
However, when you create anything you believe would help others in a novel or useful way, there will always be spectators who are critics. Their intention is good but their execution is not. For if they took action of any significance, they would somehow understand your situation and are too interested in learning more to help them in their own situation.
Focus on what you can do instead: helping others who are interested and are eager as if they are about to engage in a neighborly conversation and activity. Do you not enjoy conversing and doing things with people like I do? Even talking about mundane matters is nonetheless rewarding, but imagine if we discuss, compare, and apply the most useful philosophies. The good that comes out of such exerises continues to make the world a better place to live.
Therefore, let the force of your words be also backed up by the power of your works. Your works would be like grown children of yours all supporting you in your old age. Few things would make you happier and have you feeling incredibly proud and satisfied.
You sometimes declare to me that you were a helper today. You exude goodness when you go out of your way to help others, when you feel good about helping others, even showing frustration when you cannot help. You not only have the tendency to share your treasure but also have no hesitation when it comes to helping others dig for theirs. It would seem to me you enjoy the discovering just as much as the discovery. I am proud and satisfied with your progress, Epictetus.
"Where this love for each other is perfect and the two share it completely, each striving to outdo the other in devotion, the marriage is ideal and worthy of envy, for such a union is beautiful." Musonius
That a relationship should be rewarding to you seems like a given, yet it is more accurately an afterthought. After all, that is only half of the matter. The other half is asking how is that same relationship rewarding for the other person? If one day passes such that the answer to that question remains unclear is one day too many. People think a good relationship is a peaceful partnership when in actuality a rewarding union is active and competitive -- a competition to see who can outdo each other in making the other person's life even more rewarding. The key here is that both individuals play along and continue well beyond the infatuation stage, demanding that your behavior must be appropriate and never extreme.
It never fails that one ignores the last sentence above and thus would have the following concern: how do you know you are not being taken advantaged of? You do not know, if you are doing it right. What you do is your main concern, without any expectation of a return favor. The relationship, if there is going to be a relationship in the first place, is one that is built on trust, first and foremost. The reason why this is important is without trust, there would be hesitation. And if there is hesitation, then there would be doubt and a lack of devotion, a lack of fun and enthusiasm. When those components are missing, you are defeated and your competition wins out.
Besides, does it really matter that later you discover the other person wasn't really devoted? You acted in good faith throughout and that is all that should matter to you. You are without blame for something outside of your control. You would, however, be faulted if you did anything less. If you gave it your all, everything you got, the best outcome was what it was, even if it was unsuccessful. Therefore, why worry or even predict a bad outcome from the outset and for certain fulfill your own prediction? With complete trust and devotion, you have a fighting chance to fulfill and maintain a union, which is as sure a guarantee in life as it gets.
In a relationship, when a problem arises, focus on attacking the problem, not the one who is beside you helping you. When something goes right, focus on sharing the success, and recognizing the one who helped you, even if only indirectly. When everything is stable and normal, extend yourself by improving and making something better in your relationship, to further affirm and strengthen the union. All these scenarios require work, but it is the type of work you find rewarding in and of itself.
Therefore, Epictetus, when a girl decides to hold your hand, you can decide to reciprocate, too. Realize, however, that she can also choose to later let go if she doesn't want to walk beside you anymore. Thus, be sure you do all you can to make the walk worthwhile for her. If she is a good fit for you, then she would do the same. If it doesn't work out, do not assume there was anything wrong, for trying to find a match and realizing something doesn't fit are rather common and natural. What is super is realizing a beautiful existing union, one worthy of not taking each other for granted, of trying to earn each other's keep each and every day.
"Don't just allow your children to study philosophy; encourage them to do so. Also study it yourself and urge them on with frank discussions. Do this, and you will be able to say to even blood relatives that you raised your children with the interests not only of the family but the nation in mind, inasmuch as you provided it with the most desirable sort of citizen." Musonius
You love philosophy not because I forced it upon you -- that would be impossible for a strong boy like you -- but because I love philosophy and through osmosis you love it too. Like the act of reading itself, a child doesn't simply pick up a book; a child pick up a habit of the beloved parents.
When I talk with you, I occasionally test you not to catch you doing something wrong but instead to catch you doing something right, even if it is right by a smidgen. That glimmer of ability would be sufficient to develop if you so choose. I can only support. It is you who would need to do the heavy lifting but it would be the type of work you enjoy, to build upon, to impress yourself by knowing how far you have come.
There have been countless people who spend a good chunk of their lives on their profession, how to do certain procedures, improving upon techniques, in order to be more employable. However, how many of those same people would spend as much time and effort to refine how best to respond to life's many disappointments or even to life's sporadic windfalls?
Given what I have seen, not too many people. Too many run to anger or sadness when they encounter problems. As a result, some turn to drink or entertainment yet the problem remains. Conversely, too many run to arrogance or gluttony when they encounter good luck. As a result, they squander their good fortune and as chance would have it they soon begin to encounter bad luck. The reason why they run away in both situations is because they feel they have no control over the matter, that the failure or success doesn't belong to them. This is true because people who work hard and earn their fortune, or while working hard encounter problems but continue to push forward because they truly want to achieve their goal, they act with gratefulness and strength, respectively.
How to handle life's scenarios with grace and purpose requires as much time, instruction, and refinement as any professional training would require, if not more. If their parents were to have imbued them with philosophy as soon as they are able to say, "Daddy" or "Mamma," then their actions and reactions would be quite commendable and natural. They would not be afraid of hardship. They would not be haughty when they gain a little bit of luck. They would be humble even when they earned their reward, because they believe there was a small possibility divinity's hand played a part.
But it is not too late for those whose parents weren't imbued with philosophy themselves. Like in their professions, they can train to be a philosopher. They can start by learning from those whose traits they find admirable. They can also start by noticing the behaviors of those they find regrettable. They will see what they can do more of, and what they can do less of. With continual practice, in a variety of situations in everyday life, they can't help but become philosophers even without realizing they already play the part: they have the love of wisdom -- chasing after and every so often catching wisdom for a time -- not that they are already wise.
They would discover also that good qualities don't necessarily originate from the outside; they can be unlocked from within. When you know how to act properly such that you respect yourself, who wouldn't want to employ you? It would not last, however, since you will further discover you can employ yourself. Since you can get a great soul and a noble character from yourself, why would you want or seek a farm, money, or some high office from others?
You have great joy, strength, and influence within you, Epictetus, to do so much good for yourself and for all those around you.
"Associate with people who are philosophers not in name only, but in truth, if you were willing to follow their teachings." Musonius
There are those who are good at doing and good at teaching. There are also those who are good at doing but not good at teaching. However, there cannot be those who are not good at doing but good at teaching. For how can one understand, much less teach, what it is like to struggle without struggling? How can one obtain knowledge of overcoming an adversity or a great temptation without actually having done so? How can one show you treasure if he has never found it and all he has is a dubious map?
Where I sit there are plenty of men of the sort. They are in low positions and they are in high positions. They counsel to children and they counsel to kings. They write beautiful poems and publish exquisite plays. They might be good writers but they are not philosophers. They convince with words and that is as far as they go. In contrast, philosophers convince also with the tilling, sowing, watering, and laboring to produce the fruits of those words.
In short, a philosopher is a friend of wisdom. He is a friend of wisdom when he refuses to quit when the going gets tough, or to make decisions not always in his best interests. Being a friend of wisdom is hard; it sometimes takes sacrifice and contemplation. However, the entire world is a philosopher's playground, with areas to stretch one's mental and physical muscles. If everything was level and without challenge, it would not be a very fun playground at all.
Seek those who choose the difficult path because it can be a more interesting path. Follow those who take the lonely road because it can be a worthy road. People will laugh at them, calling them fools and naive. These people might even be correct for the time being. But like when one is correct to keep walking, he would not be correct to do so toward a cliff ahead. Like when a broken clock is right one minute, it is unsurprisingly not the next. The universe is tricky and mysterious like that, and so it would be a rollicking experience to play along.
I could not be happier if you always stay on the path of benevolence. Although it is sometimes difficult in terms of short-term consequences, it is rather simple (and rewarding) to follow. There are only two options to take within this path: to be honest, and if not, to be kind. Honesty is working hard for an honest day's pay which would inevitably lead you to greater powers and resources. Kindness is to protect others from harm, to promote justice, and to choose to lose for the benefit of others. I know an old man who went into debt and faced being ridiculed so he could purchase a slave to only then turn around and free him.
Of course you cannot lose anything of value when you take philosophy seriously, to choose what is wise and not always what is obvious, and to choose to be wisdom's friend -- not only when it is convenient -- until the end. What you can only lose are your anger and selfishness, and to take their places are contentment and abundance. How can one be angry and tranquil at the same time? How can one be selfish when he feels he is blessed with so much?
I am blessed to have you as my son, Epictetus.
"If you accomplish something good with hard work, the labor passes quickly but the good endures; if you do something shameful in pursuit of pleasure, the pleasure passes quickly but the shame endures." Musonius
On occasion I see you not wanting to expend only a little more energy on an endeavor, and instead choose to cut it short before it is solved or finished. Let me assure you this amount of effort will be insufficient to accomplish most things worthwhile in life. If you let your mind become lax, this has the same effect as losing it.
There might be disagreements over politics and in many other matters, but the one thing that everyone seems to understand is that working hard is a favorable trait. This favorable trait sometimes pushes aside bias and hate. Unlike talent, hard work isn't something you're born with, so it doesn't fuel envy. Being a hard worker is something you have direct control over and is a mark of an honest earner.
You need absolutely no skill to work hard -- it is a decision made mentally and then is physically executed. There are no necessary years of training, only the willingness to move forward even at a snail's pace. But a snail's pace is remarkably faster than not doing anything at all. Few things in life are that simple, powerful, and rare.
What do you gain by working hard? The same that a person gains when he has shot an arrow to the moon: a sense of accomplishment. Yet people strive to find themselves through travel and leisure. Little do they know that what they are seeking can be found through work, even, or should I rather say, especially, mundane work.
Whenever you see people running away from what is difficult, you must resist that reflex and instead run towards it. Your conscious act of wisdom and bravery will pay off multi-fold. You might go slower but you learn more. You might be done later but your work will be more refined. You might even be all alone but that is because you are farther ahead than anyone.
The gods create. They create for creation's sake, lest they too become mortal and vanish into oblivion. Where would Heracles be if he never went forward and struggled and triumphed, but instead decided to stay in bed or lie on a beach? What is there to talk about, what is there worth remembering?
Show, if not for the gods, for your future self, who will have long since forgotten the cost of labor, but can still see and feel the lasting achievement produced from that labor. Your future self would have great respect for himself, as you should have for yourself when you strive to do what is right and go the extra mile. The difference isn't always clear to people in the amount problems you faced and conquered. What is always clear is the end result, the obvious amount of care and attention you gave it beyond what was expected but right on the mark for what is needed.