The Daily Stoic: January 13, 2021

Filed in PhilosophyTags: Clarity, Daily Stoic, Epictetus, Perception

Reflections on The Daily Stoic:

  • The Discipline of Perception
  • January's Theme: Clarity
  • Topic: Circle of Control
  • Stoic: Epictetus

Today's quote:

We control our reasoned choice and all acts that depend on that moral will. What's not under our control are the body and any of its parts, our possessions, parents, siblings, children, or country - anything with which we might associate.

- Discourses, 1.22.10

We have already touched on this topic of even our own bodies not being under our direct control. And while I understand the point being made here, I think it is important to remember that we are still given many things - our bodies, our health, our families, our wealth, etc. - for which we are called to be good stewards, and the use of which we will one day be called to account.

In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the master entrusts his servants with varying amounts of gold, for which he expects an increase upon his return. Did the servants have direct control over the return on whatever investment to which they applied their allotment? No. And yet the master still expected an accounting. Investments incur risk, and could be lost entirely. Yet the master told the servant who merely buried his gold that he should have at least done exactly that - invested it.

Our bodies are not under our direct control, yet we are called both to master our bodies in both a physical and a mental sense, and to ensure that our bodies are appropriate vessels as a temple for the Holy Spirit. We do not have absolute control over our health, to be sure. But we can exercise moderation and restraint and discipline, rather than gluttony and drunkenness and sloth. And I think this distinction aligns with the Stoic philosophy articulated here by Epictetus, because it involves exercise of reasoned choice and acts that depend on our moral will.

These same verses bear repeating: "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies." (I Corinthians 6:19-20) "Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." (I Corinthians 9:26-27)

The same principles apply to our possessions, our parents, our siblings, our children, and our country. We are stewards of our possessions. We do not have ultimate control over how we obtain them or their ultimate disposition; we have full control over our choices in how we use them while we possess them. We do not have ultimate control over the choices that our children will make; we have full control over how we raise them while they remain under our care and authority. I need not mention how little control we have over our country; yet we have full control over our participation in our country's politics and full control over how we respond to politics, policy, and sociopolitical issues.

And for all of the above, that is why I find myself much more likely today to ignore television and social media, and instead go for a walk outside with my daughters.