The One Thing That Nobody Can Ever Take From You
Welcome back to Mid-Week Meditations, Lifehacker’s weekly dip into the pool of stoic wisdom, and a guide to using its waters to reflect on and improve your life.
This week’s selection comes from Epictetus in his Discourses. In book two, chapter 10, he tells us that we have no greater power than our own invincible will:
“Consider who you are. In the first place, you are a man; and this is one who has nothing superior to the faculty of the will, but all other things subjected to it; and the faculty itself he possesses unenslaved and free from subjection. Consider then from what things you have been separated by reason. You have been separated from wild beasts: you have been separated from domestic animals.”
What It Means
Stop and think about who and what you are. You are a human being and your greatest power is your will, or your ability to reason and make your own choices. It’s what commands all other aspects of your life. This power is the only thing that cannot be controlled or taken away from you by anyone, and it is what separates you from the other animals in this world. Don’t forget that you possess this power, and don’t squander it.
What to Take From It
Life is nothing but a long list of choices for most of us: you choose what you do, where you go, what you eat and drink, and how you do things, etc. But more importantly, you can decide what experiences mean to you and you can choose how you’ll react to them. Nobody can take that away from you, not even the gods themselves, says Epictetus earlier on in book one:
I must die. Must I then die lamenting? I must be put in chains. Must I then also lament? I must go into exile. Does any man then hinder me from going with smiles and cheerfulness and contentment? “Tell me the secret which you possess.” I will not, for this is in my power. “But I will put you in chains.” Man, what are you talking about? Me in chains? You may fetter my leg, but my will not even Zeus himself can overpower.
Your will, your ability to choose resilience and alacrity over lamentation and sorrow, is your greatest strength. You may not always be able to choose what happens to you, but you always have the power choose how you respond to it. No animal, human, or god can stop you.