“Punish your passions that you may not be punished by them.” – Epictetus
So many directions we could go with just a few words.
We could look at this as a warning to reign in our dreams and desires before our happiness becomes dependent on their fulfillment.
We could read it as a warning to not let the things we love take over our lives and distract us from our responsibilities.
Let’s focus on the hardest to control version of our passions, our emotional responses to the world as it happens around us. Restraining our response to things that happen to us from external forces – either good or bad – is likely the hardest but most important part of the teachings of Epictetus.
Even if we go through life acting like complete jerks, good things are going to happen to us. If we want to perpetuate the trend of being a complete jerk we will assume that we are the reason that good things happen to us. In reality, we play a very small role in the things that happen to us. While we may have worked hard, there is likely someone who worked harder and failed. While we might be smart, smarter people have had less fortune. We should restrain our egos, punish our passion for believing we are deserving of success.
On the other side of the coin, even the kindest and best of us is going to have bad things happen to them. If we throw our hands up in the air and complain that we are bad people and can’t get anything right or that life is being unjust to us, we are giving into our passion of negativity. We are choosing the negative view. In a way this is a toxic egotism, ‘of course bad things are happening to me. This is the life that I must endure,’ Our egos scream while at the same time claiming that everyone else is luckier than us or could not endure the same hardship.
As usual, the best course is in the middle. Restrain our passions, punish them, tell our ego whether it is being overly negative or overly positive to keep quiet. Focus on the small roles we actually play.
We should check ourselves lest we wreck ourselves.
virtus fortis vocat