He who desires to live tranquilly without having anything to fear from other men ought to make them his friends. Those whom he cannot make friends he should at least avoid rendering enemies, and if that is not in his power, he should avoid all dealings with them as much as possible, and keep away from them as far as it is in his interest to do so.
– Principal Doctrine 39
It’s not easy to make our way through life without making enemies. In fact, it’s almost impossible, and it takes a truly virtuous and intelligent person, one who is tactful, amiable, and able to control his desires and resolve conflicts non-violently. That is the ideal that we are called to uphold, and it’s doable.
Perhaps herein lies the value of not engaging in politics. Ideas don’t have feelings and anxieties, but people do. People with political, religious, and intellectual views opposite of our own should never be dehumanized. In fact, we should go out of our way to always remember their humanity and that their difficulties, and their questions about life, are oftentimes similar to our own.
It gets trickier when it comes to not antagonizing the religious views of others, which was also advised and exemplified by Epicurus. Many of our acquaintances are easily offended when their religion is questioned, so that it’s not easy to not have our honest opinions construed as offensive even if we employ suavity in our honesty. Boundaries are healthy.
The fact that Epicureans are said to have perfected their philosophical views as a result of constant exchange of ideas with other schools of philosophy tells us that these exchanges happened. Engaging others, including non-Epicureans, amiably in philosophical discourse is, therefore, a longstanding tradition that will inevitably continue.
Having said that, and having recognized that the ideal in a good life is to not have enemies, I wish to turn to the importance of naming the inner enemy when we are living the analysed life (because there are many inner enemies). There is an Epicurean adage that, from the beginning, struck me as an interesting possible introspective experiment. Here is the verse:
We cast off common customs just as we would do to wicked men who have been causing great harm for a long time. – Sayings, 46
The adage reminded me of a technique I learned while reading the book Ending the Battle Within, where author Verlaine Crawford, through visualization and other techniques, encouraged people to name and become acquainted with their sub-personalities in order to ensure, well, that there’s no mutiny in the pirate ship. It’s true that over the years we develop various identities tied to our hobbies, likes, values, relationships, and that these mind-streams shape who we are and, at times, are hostile to each other, and it’s also true that they exhibit unresolved issues: perhaps an ill-informed decision we (consciously or unconsciously) made years ago that still lingers and we’re not fully aware of, or a negative impression or opinion that forever haunts us and that deserves to be challenged. We tend to live our lives unaware of many of our own attitudes.
Naming the enemy within sounded to me like a therapeutically valuable one, because I’ve used it and it’s worked: I can now easily silence the inner lull of words when it comes from bad impressions that aren’t always relevant. I named the nagging, complaining part of me Old Noah, because it reminded me of the vindictive attitude that the biblical prophet Noah, in a fit of anger and drunkenness, displayed towards his son, even cursing him to forever be a slave.
When, as I worked through Crawford’s book, I first became aware and named this part of me, I hated the thought that I might become like Old Noah, and started challenging him. This was a great step! In the midst of all the cynicism and distrust, he still had a lot of wisdom. When we start naming our inner enemy, we become aware of the silent hostilities that dwell within us, their murmurs, and sometimes their barking, and we can engage them, question them, learn to set boundaries for them in order to become better people or accomplish important tasks. In other words we take back the helm of our ship.
Many people are quick to run their mouths when faced with difficulties and generate many man-made troubles. By being alert to feelings of adversity within, we can stop them for spilling out into our creation.
Most importantly, in terms of an analysed life, we also become aware of our sub-personalities’ true intentions, and realize that they’re oftentimes trying to protect us. A woman who was abandoned by her father may decide that she never wants another man to take care of her in order to avoid another heartbreak. A young man who finds that the religion he was brought up in is a dangerous fraud, may decide that all religion is evil and fraudulent and nothing but that, and vilify religious people. Well, what if a good man comes along who CAN and is happy to take care of a good woman? What if the best friends you’ll ever have happen to be sincerely religious?
There is also an opportunity to face our weaknesses and doubts, the excuses we make up to avoid success. We sometimes fail to recognize our own potential out of fear, or because we’re lazy or still listening to the voice of people who never believed in us. But with vigilance, these internalized justifications that weaken us can be challenged.
Understanding the real reason behind our behavior, however vulnerable that might make us feel or however deep seated many of our views are, invariably helps to make us better, more mature people who make informed decisions based on a fuller understanding of self, decisions that ultimately lead to the stability of ataraxia. The mind can be a battlefield, or it can be a place of wisdom and philosophy.
Everyone should take at least five or ten minutes daily, perhaps at the end of the night, to engage in constructive self-analysis and therapeutic introspection. We should daily take the time to regroup, organize our thoughts, and glean clarity and insight from a bit of silence. This can at times generate a significant shift in perspective and attitude.
In this way we can develop a system for cutting the weeds from the Garden of our minds and our character and be in a constant process of fighting bad habits. We can sow and nurture new seeds, kill the weeds, fight the bugs, water the roots of our virtues, and then branch out and give the world your fruits and your flowers with the help of our Gardener, our Hegemon Epicurus, who helps to remove the weeds of bad habits and cultivate the good ones.
So go ahead, have a session of constructive self-analysis with your self every now and then.