Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XII.: OF TAKING PAINS. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
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CHAPTER XII.: OF TAKING PAINS. - Epictetus, The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments [100 AD]
The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments. A Translation from the Greek based on that of Elizabeth Carter, by Thomas Wentworth Higginson (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1865).
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OF TAKING PAINS.
WHEN you cease to take pains for a little while, do not fancy you may recommence whenever you please, but remember this, that by means of the fault of to-day, your affairs must necessarily be in a worse condition for the future. The first and worst evil is that there arises a habit of neglect; and then a habit of postponing effort, and constantly procrastinating as to one’s successes and good behavior and orderly thought and action. Now if procrastination as to anything is advantageous, it must be still more advantageous to omit it altogether; but if it be not advantageous, why do you not take pains all the time? “I would play to-day.” What then? Ought you not to take proper pains about it? “I would sing.” But why not take proper pains about it? For there is no part of life exempted, about which pains are not needed. For will you do anything the worse by taking pains, and the better by neglect? What else in life is best performed by heedless people? Does a smith forge the better by heedlessness? Does a pilot steer more safely by heedlessness? Or is any other, even of the minutest operations, best performed heedlessly? Do you not perceive that, when you have let your mind loose, it is no longer in your power to call it back, either to propriety, or modesty, or moderation? But you do everything at haphazard; you merely follow your inclinations.
“To what, then, am I to direct my pains.”
Why, in the first place, to those universal maxims which you must always have at hand; and not sleep, or arise, or drink, or eat, or converse without them: — that no one is the master of another’s will; and that it is in the will alone that good and evil lie. No one, therefore, is my master, either to procure me any good, or to involve me in any evil; but I alone have the disposal of myself with regard to these things. Since these, then, are secured to me, what need have I to be troubled about externals? What tyrant is formidable? What disease? What poverty? What offence? “I have not pleased such a one.” Is he my concern then? Is he my conscience? “No.” Why, then, do I trouble myself any further about him? “But he is thought to be of some consequence.” Let him look to that; and they who think him so. But I have One whom I must please, to whom I must submit, whom I must obey; God, and those who surround Him. He has intrusted me with myself, and made my will subject to myself alone, having given me rules for the right use of it. If I follow the proper rules in syllogisms, in convertible propositions, I do not heed or regard any one who says anything contrary to them. Why, then, am I vexed at being censured in matters of greater consequence? What is the reason of this perturbation? Nothing else, but that in this instance I want practice. For every science despises ignorance and the ignorant; and not only the sciences, but even the arts. Take any shoemaker, take any smith you will, and he may laugh at the rest of the world, so far as his own business is concerned.
In the first place, then, these are the maxims we must have ready, and do nothing without them, but direct the soul to this mark. To pursue nothing external, nothing that belongs to others, but as He who hath the power hath appointed. Things controllable by will are to be pursued always; and the rest as may be permitted. Besides this, we must remember who we are, and what name we bear, endeavoring to use all the circumstances of life in their proper relations; what is the proper time for singing, what for play, and in what company; what will be the consequence of our performance; whether our companions will despise us, or we ourselves; when to employ raillery, and whom to ridicule; upon what occasions to comply, and with whom; and then, in complying, how to preserve our own character.
Wherever you deviate from any of these rules, the damage is immediate; not from anything external, but from the very action itself. “What, then, is it possible by these means to be faultless?” Impracticable; but this is possible, to use a constant endeavor to be faultless. For we shall have cause to be satisfied, if, by never remitting our pains, we shall be exempt at least from a few faults. But now, when you say you will begin to take pains to-morrow, be assured that it is the same thing as if you said, “To-day I will be shameless, impertinent, base, it shall be in the power of others to grieve me; I will be passionate, I will be envious to-day.” See to how many evils you give yourself up. “But all will be well to-morrow.” How much better to-day? If it be for your interest to-morrow, how much more to-day, that it may be in your power to-morrow too, and that you may not again defer it until the third day.