Enchiridion of Epictetus – Chapter 14

In Philosophy, Self Improvement, Stoicism

Disease is an impediment to the body, but not to the will, unless the will itself chooses. Lameness is an impediment to the leg, but not to the will. And add this reflection on the occasion of everything that happens; for you will find it an impediment to something else, but not to yourself.

This chapter is particularly interesting because it is reported that Epictetus himself was lame. Take note to remember that before he became a Stoic teacher and opened his own school, he was actually a slave.

It is unknown whether he was born with a bad leg, or it was the result of an untreated broken bone when he was a slave, but Epictetus had difficulties walking in a correct posture, and so this chapter is directly about this experience.

I’ve often done this thought experiment: if I removed parts of myself, and what point would I not be myself?

While I care very much about the fact that I have two feet, if I removed one, I would still be Emanuele. I could then continue and remove both legs, both arms. While these limbs are part of me, they are not me.

So what we are trying to say here, is that the “will”, your choice to live a life worth living, is not dependent on outside influences, whether that is a broken leg (“Disease”) or any other thing that happens.

Your company goes bust? That has happened to your company, not to you.

Your spouse divorces you? That has happened to your relationship, not to you.

While this is a tough pill to swallow, there is, as usual, a large dose of wisdom in this chapter.

If we accept the Stoic advice that most of what happens is outside of our control (remember, partial control is really no control), then we realize that outside events do not need to bother us as much as they currently do, because they are not nearly as important as making the right actions and thoughts each and every day.