The Enchiridion 1.1

“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.” – Enchiridion 1.1


It’s important for people like me to remember that in the second sentence of this paragraph, Epictetus is assuming a healthy mind.  By “healthy”, I mean having the capacity to be in control of those things, or the potential for that capacity.

People with mental difficulties (because of illness, brain injury, or developmental disabilities) must recognize this.  If a person with a fully functional brain has difficulty being in control of their desire and aversion, imagine how much more it will be for someone who’s brain is not fully functional.  So we can probably cut ourselves a little bit of slack when we fail.  Not slack as in “why bother trying”, but forgiveness when we fall short.

A person with with working legs and a healthy cardiovascular system probably can’t run a marathon if they’ve never run any appreciable distance before.  Break one of those working legs, and you wouldn’t expect them to train by running until the leg has healed.  But they *can* do things to be ready for the day when the leg has healed.

We have no idea what our potential is.  As far as I can tell, it’s usually much higher than we give ourselves credit for.  No, it’s not unlimited, as some self-help gurus would have you believe.  But it’s a mistake to say “Oh, I have Bipolar Disorder, so I can’t do this” or “Too bad I’m on the spectrum, not for me” or “Yeah, but I’m an addict, and I’ll never climb out of this.”  Or even the much simpler (and far more common) too old, too young, too stupid, too whatever spiel.

It’s in your power to take whatever action you can and begin to put those things back under your control.  And when (not if, when) you initially fail, begin again.  And again.  And again.

But what about the things that Epictetus lists as not in our control?  Stop concerning yourself with them.  Wisdom may tell you to take care of your body, but no matter what precautions you put in place you could still get attacked by a super bug or get hit by a bus.  You may be self-disciplined when it comes to your money – then along come the banksters or scammers, and it’s gone.

So focus only on those things in these areas where you do have control (or the potential for control).  You can exercise control over what you do with your body.  You can exercise control over where your property is allocated.  Exercise what control you have, and it will grow.

Doing this, according to Epictetus (and the rest of the Stoics), is a major step on the road to happiness.



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