So those of you who have been reading or following my journey thus far will have noticed a bit of an old habit of returning to Marcus Aurelius when in need of wisdom or soundbite. Moving onwards, while perhaps I should persevere with Seneca, I’m becoming a little bogged down in the details of Roman politics for my liking and shall be changing course. Like the title suggests: enter Epictetus.
I was out for lunch with a family member today discussing the usual things you do with family being primarily career and starting a family of my own and the question of when either things will ever come together. In my initial flicking through of Epictetus, I landed on a section that, another gift from Universe, spoke to me almost directly through the centuries. It’s a fresh page yet to be covered in my pencil scribbles, a reprieve only until I remember to get pencils next time I’m at the shop.
“Everyone has preconceptions. And one preconception does not contradict another. I mean, who of us does not assume that what is good is beneficial and choice, in all cases to be desired and pursued? Who of us does not assume that justice is fair and appropriate? So where does conflict come in? In the application of preconceptions to particular cases. One person, for instance, will say, ‘Well done, there’s a brave man,’ while another says, ‘He isn’t brave, he’s just deranged.’ This is how conflict originates and it is the source of difference amongst Jews, Syrians, Egyptians and Romans. They don’t dispute that what is holy should be preferred above everything else and in every case pursued; but they argue, for example, over whether it is holy or unholy to eat pork.” – Discourses and Selected Writings, 1.22
What we seek is the same from person to person: happiness and enlightenment. Yet preconceptions from person to person dictate the road taken to those goals or who we go with. It’s the similar argument of to be vaccinated or not to be with either camp declaring bravery or madness. Similarly, the heart citing bravery for clinging onto concepts of togetherness with someone while the brain scoffs – that one being a conflict of preconceptions rather than contradiction. Both want the same thing – harmony not chaos.
There is no chaos, there is harmony.
Through preconceptions, we dictate, much like the various religions what is holy or unholy to us and in those dications, we are collectivist. Yet in the finer details, the individual experience and impression is absolute law. When we see this, in all of us, in all things, we can witness the greater harmony of the Whole and see a fuller picture of a united humanity.
In our own lives, we all strive for the same core things that fall on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: physiological needs, safety needs, belongingness and love, esteem, and self-actualisation. The finer points, those nitty gritty things in the abstract are entirely arbitrary to the grander scheme of things. But in those points, we carve parts of life out for ourselves and make it our own with the stories and scars that leave an impression on us.
So, to answer the question that I dodged from my grandmother:
No things didn’t workout with person X, and I am in fact losing interest in career Y, but my needs are well on their way of being fulfilled all the same. Preconceptions of success that are not my own preconceptions have no bearing on that. Why would they have bearing on anyone? Of course that’s easy to say, with people experience enormous pressure to achieve someone else’s ideas of success not being a uncommon story. Then we ask ourselves, what are our preconceptions? What are our ideals? Who are we? Who am I?