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kottke.org posts about Elif Batuman

How to be a stoic

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 24, 2017

Elif Batuman wrote a short piece about how she discovered stoicism for The New Yorker.

The first line of Epictetus’ manual of ethical advice, the Enchiridion — “Some things are in our control and others not” — made me feel that a weight was being lifted off my chest. For Epictetus, the only thing we can totally control, and therefore the only thing we should ever worry about, is our own judgment about what is good. If we desire money, health, sex, or reputation, we will inevitably be unhappy. If we genuinely wish to avoid poverty, sickness, loneliness, and obscurity, we will live in constant anxiety and frustration. Of course, fear and desire are unavoidable. Everyone feels those flashes of dread or anticipation. Being a Stoic means interrogating those flashes: asking whether they apply to things outside your control and, if they do, being “ready with the reaction ‘Then it’s none of my concern.’”

I’m still struggling with recalling Epictetus’ advice when I need to, but I can identify with Batuman’s feeling of a weight being lifted when I do. I’ve noticed that the more central the notion of a lack of control is to my thinking, the more productive, more caring, more mindful, and (perhaps paradoxically) more willing to take risks I become.