What Does It Mean to Be Educated (According to Epictetus)

What does it mean to be educated?

To have acquired specific knowledge and skills?

To have a basic understanding of math, the sciences, and art?

To have good social skills and be good with other people?

To act respectufully toward the environment and animals?

To have good table manners?

To keep quiet when your mother or father tells you what you should do?

To avoid arguments with other people?

Not to discriminate against minorities and other groups within your society?

You can say that all of these.

But perhaps that’s not enough.

“To accuse others for one’s own misfortune is a sign of want of education. To accuse oneself shows that one’s education has begun. To accuse neither oneself nor others shows that one’s education is complete.”

Epictetus

When things go wrong, we often blame ourselves for it. Often, the more we read and introspect, the more critical we are with ourselves.

But aren’t we being self-indulgent?

We like to think we are in control of our lives and the outcome of most of our actions.

We like to think we choose what we study, our friends, even our love interests sometimes.

We like to think free will is given.

(Not to think so can be unsettling.)

But it often takes a misfortune to shake us to the core.

Because at school we are not prepared for what that ancient Greek stoic is talking about.

We don’t get that sort of education.

And we may not get it in the family, either.

It’s easy even for very smart people to point fingers and blame others.

It happens everywhere.

But in many cases, it’s simply the complexities of life that give rise to problems rather than personal failures or ill will.

The are evil people in the world, and there are good, but most of us are somewhere in between.

Can we not accuse others when things go wrong?

Strangers, people close to us, ourselves?

It’s not easy–it’s one of the hardest things.

But maybe that’s what we have to do to deal with this pandemic and climate change and our own personal upheavals.

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