The 12+12 Books of Christmas #13

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The Enchiridion by Epictetus begins with a blunt sentence: “Some things are in our control and others not.” From this simple notion unravels an incredible work of Stoic philosophy that has delighted readers for centuries. Or perhaps “delight” is not the right word. Stoics can be delighted for sure, but they are not the types to get worked up. As a philosophy, Stoicism is not for the optimistic among us. It is almost like a coping mechanism for those who see the world as a grim place filled with adversity and suffering.

As dark as that may sound, I have found that it kind of works. If there is comfort in philosophy, it can be found in thinkers who tell you what kinds of things you should worry about and what kinds of things are meaningless. Not giving a damn can be difficult if you do not know why you should or should not care. Contrary to its image as a sourpuss philosophy, Stoicism can be liberating. It is a wonderful feeling not to care when the world seems to be crumbling all around you. But it is only possible when you can make an informed decision on what not to care about.

In the book, we get strange sounding advice like: “If, instead of an onion or a shellfish, you are given a wife or a child, that is fine.” If it sounds like a cynical self-help book, you can also think of it as a lesson in priorities. We also get more straightforward advice: “Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.” Sounds easy, but it takes practice. The goal of the Stoic is apatheia, indifference or freedom from the passions. I still need practice, because I do find reading Epictetus absolutely delightful.

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