The past few years, I've fallen in love with the teachings of the Stoics. (mainly the Big Three- Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus) I find their teachings, for the most part, to line up really well with the teachings of Jesus, Solomon, and Paul. This is one of my favorite quotes from Epictetus. It serves as a solid foundation for one of Stoicism's main tenets:
"The first thing you need to do is realize this- Some things are in your control and others are not. Things in your control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are your own actions. Things not in your control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not your own actions."
Epictetus' main point is this- most of our suffering and frustration comes from trying to control things that are outside of our control. One of our most primal fears is losing control, and that causes us to do a lot of stupid things. The Stoic practice of reflecting on what is or isn't in your control in any given situation can really help alleviate frustration and bring clarity. Here are the things Epictetus says are in your control.
Opinion- meaning, the way you think about or interpret things. You can control that. This is a theme that pops up repeatedly in the writings of the Stoics. Seneca wrote:
"We are more often frightened than hurt. And we suffer more from our imaginations than from reality."
Pursuit and Desire- You are in control of the things that you chase in your life. The Scriptures tell us often that "you reap what you sow." You are in control of (and responsible for) the things that you pursue in your life (and what you settle for.) One of my favorite quotes from Marcus Aurelius is:
"A man's true worth is measured by the things that he pursues."
Aversion- we are also responsible for the things that we avoid in our lives. This of course could be positive and negative. If we avoid truth-speakers and accountability, we will pay the price. If we avoid the people and things which bring us harm in as much as is in our power, we will reap the benefit.
Now for the things not in our control-
Body- You can do everything within your power to take care of your health. And you should. Control what you can in that regards. But what you can't control is the inevitability of decay and death. Time works against us all. The more you fret about those parts of your health that you can't control, the more damage being done.
Property- Your stuff. Once again, you can be as responsible and diligent as you can about things, but you can't control how others treat them. You can't control their inevitable decay.
Reputation- This is one of the biggest challenges for me in this quote. We can't control what people think of us, no matter how much we want to or how important it may be. We can certainly do everything within our power to represent ourselves in the way we want, to say things carefully and thoughtfully and compassionately, but we cannot control how others think or respond to it.
Command- I read three translations of this Epictetus quote and they all used different words here. (Office, power, command.) I think the idea is that you can't control your political or social status and authority. Often times those are based on someone else's control. Do what you can, but don't fret about the parts of this that aren't in your control.
So the thing that is in our control...ourselves. What we spend our time thinking about, our opinions on things, our words, our choices. We are in control of our ourselves. I think we often spend more time being frustrated with things outside of our control and not enough time working on our attitude, opinion, and personal discipline.
You are in control of and responsible for yourself.
While you might be responsible to some people, you are not responsible for them.