Practical Stoicism: Play Your Role Well

Submitted by c0c0c0 on Sat, 09/23/2017 - 14:10

Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it is his pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the character assigned you; to choose it is another's. (Epictetus, Endichirion 17)

Fate has chosen a role for you. It is the role you fill right now. It is comprised of all your weaknesses, strengths, wisdom and ignorance. It includes the responsibilities you have accrued up to now, and all the debts owed to you, or by you. The entire chain of causality back to the beginning of time has conspired to place you into the role you fill at this moment in time.

What will you do, now?

The correct answer is, "My job, as best I can."

It is irrelevant how ill-prepared you feel you might be for the challenges you face.  It simply doesn't matter if you don't want the role you find yourself playing. That's the one you have. You can fill that role well or you can do so poorly, but you will fill it regardless.

Reflect on the other social roles you play. If you are a council member, consider what a council member should do. If you are young, what does being young mean, if you are old, what does age imply, if you are a father, what does fatherhood entail? Each of our titles, when reflected upon, suggests the acts appropriate to it. (Epictetus, Discourses II)

One seeking wisdom will analyze his life objectively, and take honest inventory of his roles; as a parent, a student, an employee, a leader - whatever those roles might be. For some roles, the only virtuous path is to leave them. For others, it is to endure them. A prisoner, a patient and an exile each have their own opportunities for excellence. The role itself is unimportant, to be neither desired nor feared. The role is not the person. It is simply part of the environment in which they must act.

The world is filled with children who whine and complain bitterly about the roles thrust upon them, as if the universe should, somehow, bend reality to pave a more gentle path for them. You should, instead, seek to be the adult in the room, the calm voice of practicality who notes that, fairness aside, here we are. All that matters is what we do next.