“Some things are up to us,” Epictetus says, “and some are not up to us.”

He explains that there are internal things (things like “opinions, impulses, desires and aversions”) and external things (things like “bodies, possessions, reputations and public offices”) and that we should only feel responsible for the internal things, the things he describes as being “up to us.”

Happiness, as Epictetus sees it, is not an emotion but a decision. It is a decision to keep the external events from overwhelming the psyche. We aren’t in control of what others do, Epictetus explains, so why let what they do dictate the direction of our day?

I was so fascinated by his Enchiridion that I just had to try putting his ideas to work.

I work at McDonalds, see, and this morning was a particularly terrible morning. I got very little sleep last night and we just so happened to be understaffed today during a hectic rush.

But all of those things are external, aren’t they?

So I had to focus on my internals.

“What upsets people is not things themselves but their judgements about the things.” Epictetus says.

In McDonald’s terms this would probably mean something like this: the lack of sleep and lack of people and the overwhelming amount of customers are not terrible things in it of themselves. It is my judgement about them that makes the experience so miserable for me. So it is the judgement of the experience that I need to change in order to change my perspective.

I have yet to understand what the correct way to look at these externals is but I thought about “as long as people come I can keep my job” which did seem to turn the day around after I focused on it for long enough.

I can’t wait to practice again this weekend!

In Order to Become Scholars We Must First Learn to Be Children

In history there is a constant danger of observing only facts, stories and theories. It is very tempting to assume that mankind has held the same values and ideas over time–many of my colleagues default to this when history buries them under dates and names. Refusing to give culture the room to breathe, however, makes understanding the past near impossible. In Medieval History class, I know students who try to pretend that the religious aspects of the time were either non-existent or primarily malign or unimportant–this limits their understanding of the time as the Church was central to the lives of everyman during this time. A similar thing happens with Classical History as well. People are hesitant to acknowledge the blatant disregard and degradation of women or the Greek’s cultural acceptance, and preference, of/toward homosexual relationships. Denying either of these attributes, however, leaves the historian with a massively biased version of their subject and prevents them from truly understanding their subject.

Learning a language is a perfect example of cultural gaps. Today in German we were working on translation and a class discussion broke out over the structure of a sentence.
“Why can’t you just say, Ich fahre? I drive?” My class wondered.
“Because the Germans don’t think about things that way. You need to say, Ich fahre mit dem Auto, or I go by car.” My teacher answered.
“But why?”
“Because that’s just the way we say it.”
“But why?”
My professor always says that it is easier to teach children a language. Why is that? Because they simply accept differences in the language. Unlike my colleagues who need a reason for every incongruency between the German and English sentence structure, a child would simply soak in the information.

Historical culture is no different.

Culture is ever changing. Whether it be the difference between China and Canada or Iron Age Britain and the British Empire. Our minds are infested with our own culture and, like the students in my language class, we often find ourselves annoyed when we aren’t allowed to simply slip our own culture into the past. However, we must learn to be like a child where as we see these differences and keep them in mind, finding it natural that different times and places have/had different cultures. It is not the Historian’s job to judge the ethics of his or her time period of interest but to understand it.