In his inimitable, frank language, Epictetus explained that his curriculum was not about “revenues or income, or peace or war, but about happiness and unhappiness, success and failure, slavery and freedom.”

James Bond Stockdale, in Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior

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Navy fighter pilot James Stockdale is the only three star Admiral in the history of the U.S. Navy to have spent years of captivity in solitary confinement as a prisoner of war and become a recipient of the Congressional Metal of Honor.

He holds a graduate degree in philosophy from Stanford University where his focus was on the Stoic philosophers, Epictetus included.

Epictetus, as the above indicates, maintained a school in Rome the purpose of which was to produce students who could speak of philosophical ideas without “idle” babble. As he said “Let others practice lawsuits, others study problems, others syllogisms: here you practice how to die, how to be enchained, how to be racked, how to be exiled.”

Mind you he lived in a harsh time.  Indeed, he was a slave who gained his freedom.  He faced (as did many) a hard life with great risk.  His desire was to help others find a way to live well in the midst of real challenges.  Philosophy was his vehicle – as it was with Admiral Stockdale.

Epictetus thought that a person was responsible for his own “judgments, even in dreams, in drunkenness, and in melancholy madness.”  His view was that each person brings about his own good, his own evil, good or ill fortune, his happiness or unhappiness.  He held the view that to be a victim one must consent to victimhood and that in virtue is serenity.  Indeed, how we chose to live our daily life was key to our contentment, wisdom, survival and prosperity.

Why do I write of this today?  To raise the point that we are not captive to the language and conditions of secular culture.  As human beings we have a sacred autonomy that allows us to author a life that is positive and strong in the face of what seems hard, unjust, dismissive, hurtful, disrespectful, faithless and harsh.

We are made to know our freedom, dignity, happiness and autonomy and to encourage and respect others who possess precisely that same nature as we do.  Seems to me we could use a good deal of what Epictetus is “selling.”

Be well.

Shalom.