Epictetus part 26: The Universal Will of Nature

A lot of things happen to people. Our property breaks or is destroyed; we are insulted or mistreated; our husband, wife or child dies. This can happen to all of us. Yet, our reaction to such misfortune is generally very different if it happens to others than if it happens to us. Epictetus reminds us that what happens is the same, whether it happens to us or someone else. The will of Nature is universal.

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The will of Nature is found in the things in which we don’t differ from one another. If the slave of someone else breaks a cup, then we are directly prepared to say: ‘such things happen’. So realize that when your own cup is broken, you should be the same as when another’s cup breaks. Apply this to bigger cases as well. Someone else’s child or wife dies? There is nobody who would not say ‘it is human nature’. But if your own child or wife dies, it goes immediately ‘O, how wretched I am!’. But we must remember how hearing the same thing about others makes us feel.

I think that the point that Epictetus tries to make in this paragraph is that we are essentially all the same: we are human beings. Why, then, should we behave differently if something happens to us than if the same thing happens to someone else? If a cup breaks, then that’s exactly what happens: a cup breaks. Does it matter to who the cup belongs? No: the result is the same. In the third paragraph of the Encheiridion, we have learned that we should accept the true nature of things, and accept the reality of loss and death as part of Nature. We should not get overattached to objects or even to people, because there is a good chance we might lose them.

I especially like the first sentence of this paragraph: “The will of Nature is found in the things in which we don’t differ from one another”. It holds the idea that human beings are all equal (which is one of the fundamental assumptions on which modern societies and constitutions are built on). Despite all our differences in character, behaviour, gender, nationality, the colour of our skin or the content of our beliefs, we are all human. We are human beings endowed with the faculty of reason. And as such, we have more in common than we are different. So do not accept something to happen to others if you don’t want it to happen to you. And accept what happens to you if you accept the same thing for others.

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