Protect This Like Nothing Else
“If a person gave away your body to some passerby, you’d be furious. Yet you hand over your mind to anyone who comes along, so they may abuse you, leaving it disturbed and troubled—have you no shame in that?”
— Epictetus, Stoic Philosopher
We have laws against slavery. Your body is protected, and other people cannot give it away or do with it as they please. Not without your consent, or it’s a crime.
So much for our bodies. But what about our minds? Here we seem less concerned. Epictetus points out that we are willing to abandon control of our thoughts at the drop of a hat: You hear that a close friend has made a backstabbing comment about you. Or you’re doing the groceries shopping, and everybody seems to be at the supermarket at the same time as you, the checkout lines are frustratingly long and slow-moving. You’re already late to pick up your kid from day-care after work, it’s rush hour, and inconsiderate and impatient drivers are stopped across the intersection, blocking your progress.
In these situations, it’s reasonable to get annoyed and lose it. No?
Maybe, but know that if you do, you’ll have surrendered an essential part of yourself. And, worst of all, it doesn’t help the situation anyway. When has getting angry and upset ever made a situation better? Exactly—like never.
Epictetus became a philosopher while he was a slave in Rome two millennia ago. His body belonged to his master. But he understood, as possibly only a slave can, that he was in charge of his mind and nobody could take that away—unless he consented.
Better control of your thoughts has profound effects on happiness: If you could choose between being calm and unsettled, why would you ever choose the latter? Be even more concerned about the welfare of your mind than that of your body.