Don't be angry with wrongdoers

Epictetus – Discourses Book 1
I.18. Don’t be angry with wrongdoers

It is a general observation of philosophy that people are guided by a single standard:

  1. People assent to things they feel must be true,
  2. People dissent to things they feel is not true,
  3. People suspend judgment concerning things they are not clear as to their truth value.

This is the same with impulses: “It is impossible to consider one thing advantageous and desire something different, or consider one thing right and have an impulse to something else.”

It follows that people who do wrong do it because they are confused as to what is good and what is bad.

So to be angry with them is groundless as it is useless. If we could show these people where their thinking goes wrong, they would reform themselves.

The reason we might get angry when someone wrongs us, or steals from us is that we put too high a premium on things that can be stolen, or otherwise taken away from us. If we don’t attach too high a value to things that can be taken from us, then we won’t get angry to those who take these things from us.

What is only and truly ours cannot be taken. What can be taken is not under our control anyway.

“As long as you honour material things, direct your anger at yourself rather than the thief… ‘But the tyrant will chain —’ What will he chain? Your leg. ‘He will chop off —’ What? Your head. What he will never chain or chop off is your integrity. That’s the reason behind the ancient advice to ‘know yourself’… Walk upright and free, trusting in the strength of your moral convictions, not the strength of your body, like an athlete. You weren’t meant to be invincible by brute force, like a pack animal. You are invincible if nothing outside the will can disconcert you.”