Epictetus – How Much are You Worth?

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Man, the rational animal, can put up with anything except what seems to him irrational; whatever is rational is tolerable. Physical hardships are not intolerable by nature. The Spartans, for instance, gladly submit to being whipped because they are taught that it is done for good reason. But what about being hanged – isn’t that intolerable? Well, people frequently go and hang themselves, whenever they judge that it is a reasonable course of action.

In short, reflection will show that people are put off by nothing so much as what they think is unreasonable, and attracted to nothing more than what to them seems reasonable.

But standards of reasonableness and unreasonableness vary from one person to the next ‐– just as we consider different things good or bad, harmful or beneficial. Which is why education has no goal more important than bringing our preconception of what is reasonable and unreasonable in alignment with nature.

But this not only involves weighing the value of externals, it also means considering what agrees with our own, individual nature. For one person it is reasonable to be a bathroom attendant because he only thinks about what punishment and privation lie in wait for him otherwise, and knows that if he accepts the assignment he will be spared that pain and hardship. Someone else not only finds such a job intolerable for him personally, but finds it intolerable that anyone should have to perform it. But ask me, ‘Shall I be a bathroom attendant or not?’ and I will tell you that earning a living is better than starving to death; so that if you measure your interests by these criteria, go ahead and do it. ‘But it would be beneath my dignity.’ Well, that is an additional factor that you bring to the question, not me. You are the one who knows yourself – which is to say, you know how much you are worth in your own estimation, and therefore at what price you will sell yourself; because people sell themselves at different rates.

Epictetus – The Discourses

By MB

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