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An essay donated by Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys:

Some things are beyond our control.

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I got breast cancer in 2015, and had a double mastectomy. It was followed by 6 months of chemotherapy treatments. I was luckier than many and had very mild side effects from the treatments. So far, I am cancer free. During one treatment one lady asked me how I managed to deal with what was going on.

I told her that my philosophy is that there are many things in life that we have absolutely no control over. We do, however, have control over how we choose to deal with whatever life sends our way.

This fall I picked up a book at a garage sale, "The Art of Living, The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness." 1 This is a book about the teachings of Epictetus -- one of those ancient Pagan Greek Philosophers! The book I picked up is a new translation/interpretation by Sharon Lebell.

I didn’t realize my personal philosophy came from such a famous Greek Stoic philosopher. Epictetus was born around 55 CE. He taught in Rome until 94 CE when he was exiled by Domitian, to Nicopolis on the northwest coast of Greece.

His teachings start with this simple sentence:

"Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not."

That might remind many of the Serenity Prayer that is a part of the addiction recovery movement:

"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

A little later Epictetus tells us:

"Keep your attention focused entirely on what is truly your own concern, and be clear that what belongs to others is their business and none of yours."

Oh how I wish all of those that want to restrict women’s access to birth control  because they disapprove  of the use of birth control or  those who deny services to homosexuals because they think homosexual behavior is wrong could hear and take to heart what Epictetus has to say—mind your own business and let others mind theirs.

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A little later we read:

"Open your eyes: See things for what they really are, thereby sparing yourself the pain of false attachments and avoidable devastation."

If only the Climate deniers, the Creationists, and the believers in "fake" news would listen.

A little later we read:

"Things themselves don’t hurt or hinder us. Nor do other people. How we view these things is another matter. It is our attitudes and reactions that give us trouble."

Maybe if people could read these lines they’d stop blaming "the other:" the ones that are different from them, immigrants, homosexuals, transgender people, people of color, people of other ethnic traditions, women, the government, Republicans or Democrats, the educated, the uneducated, people of other religions or of no religion, etc.

Then he says:

"Small-minded people habitually reproach others for their own misfortunes. Average people reproach themselves. Those who are dedicated to a life of wisdom understand that the impulse to blame something or someone is foolishness, that there is nothing to be gained in blaming, whether it be others or oneself."

He goes on to say:

"One of the signs of the dawning of moral progress is the gradual extinguishing of blame. We see the futility of finger pointing. The more we examine our attitudes and work on ourselves, the less we are apt to be swept away by stormy emotional reactions in which we seek easy explanations for unbidden events."

Oh how I wish ... people would expand their minds by reading and thinking about the teachings of authors like Epictetus. So far, I have only read to page 11. There are 100 more pages of his wisdom to go!

There is great wisdom out there for those that are willing to seek it.

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References used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. book cover Epictetus (Author), SharonLebell (Translator), "Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness," HarperOne, 2007,
    Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

    Available in Kindle, Hardcover, Paperback and Audiobook formats.
    219 Amazon customer reviews rated the book at 4.6 out of 5 stars.
    You can download a free app from Amazon to read Kindle ebooks on your PC, Mac, tablet, etc.

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Author: Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys
Originally posted on: 2017-NOV-15
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