14. How not be bullied ?

Be wise & shun those who might hurt you, You must not seen to be avoiding them; as what one avoids, one condemns; When we choose not to stamp others down, we let them think that they can stomp us.

The wise ones regard reason for all their actions, though not the results; The beginning is in our own power; fortune decides the issue.

On Reasons for Withdrawing from the World

I confess that we all have an inborn affection for our body; I confess that we are entrusted with its guardianship.

I do not maintain that the body is not to be indulged at all; though I maintain that we must not be slaves to it; One will have many rulers who makes their body it’s ruler, who is over-fearful on its behalf, who judges everything according to the body.

We should conduct ourselves not as if we ought to live for the body, but as if we could not live without it; Our great love for it makes us restless with fears, burdens us with cares, & exposes us to insults.

Virtue is held too cheap by those who counts their body too dear; We should cherish the body with greatest care; but we should also be prepared, when reason, & duty demand sacrifice, to deliver it to the flames.

Let us however, in so far as we can, avoid discomforts as well as dangers, & withdraw to safe ground, by thinking continually how we may repel all objects of fear.

If I am not mistaken, there are three main classes of these: we fear want, we fear sickness, & we fear troubles which result from violence of the stronger.

Of all these, that which shakes us most is the dread which hangs over us from our neighbour’s ascendancy; for it is accompanied by great outcry & uproar.

Natural evils which I have mentioned, – want & sickness, – steal upon us silently with no shock of terror to eye or to ear; The other kind of evil comes, so to speak, in the form of a huge parade.

Picture to yourself under this head, the prison, the cross, the rack & the stake which they drive straight through a person until it protrudes from their throat; Think of human limbs torn apart by chariots driven in opposite directions.

It is not surprising then, if our greatest terror is of such a fate; for it comes in many shapes & its paraphernalia are terrifying; For just as the torturer accomplishes more in proportion to the number of instruments which it displays, – indeed, the spectacle overcomes those who would have patiently withstood the suffering, – similarly, of all agencies which coerce & rule our minds, most effective are those which can make a display.

Those other troubles are of course not less serious; I mean hunger, thirst & fever that parches our very bowels; They are, however, secret; they have no bluster & no heralding; but these, like huge arrays of war, prevail by virtue of their display & their equipment.

Let us therefore, see to it that we abstain from giving offence; It is sometimes, people that we ought to fear; or sometimes a body of influential oligarchs; & sometimes individuals equipped with power by the people & against the people.

It is burdensome to keep friendship of all such persons; it is enough not to make enemies of them; So the wise ones will never provoke anger of those in power; nay, they will even turn their course, precisely as one would turn from a storm if they were steering a ship.

When you crossed the Straits, The reckless pilot scorned the wind which roughens the Sea & forces it into choppy currents; the pilot sought not the shore on the left, but strand hard by the place where Charybdis throws the seas into confusion.

Your more careful pilot, however, questions those who know the locality as to tides & meaning of clouds; the pilot holds its course far from that region notorious for its swirling waters.

Our wise ones does the same; they shun a strong person who may be injurious to them, making a point of not seeming to avoid them, because an important part of one’s safety lies in not seeking safety openly; for what one avoids, one condemns.

We should therefore look about us, & see how we may protect ourselves from the mob; First of all, we should have no cravings like theirs; for rivalry results in strife.

Again, let us possess nothing that can be snatched from us to great profit of a plotting foe; Let there be as little booty as possible on your person; No one sets out to shed blood of others for the sake of bloodshed, – at any rate very few.

Next, we must follow the old adage & avoid three things with special care: hatred, jealousy, & scorn. Wisdom alone can show you how this may be done.

It is hard to observe a mean; we must be chary of letting fear of jealousy lead us into becoming objects of scorn, lest, when we choose not to stamp others down, we let them think that they can stomp us.

Power to inspire fear has caused many to be in fear; Let us withdraw ourselves in every way; for it is as harmful to be scorned as to be admired.

For speechmaking at the bar, or any other pursuit that claims people’s attention, wins enemies for oneself; but philosophy is peaceful & minds its own business; We cannot scorn it; it is honoured by every profession, even vilest among them.

Evil can never grow so strong, & nobility of character can never be so plotted against, that the name of philosophy shall cease to be worshipful & sacred.

Philosophy itself, however, should be practised with calmness & moderation.

It is not now a question of freedom; long since has freedom gone to rack & ruin; Question not, whether it is Caesar or Pompey who controls the State, why, should you take sides in that dispute?, It is no business of yours; a tyrant is being selected; What does it concern you who conquers?, The better person may win; but the winner is bound to be the worse person.”

However, we shall consider later whether the wise persons ought to give their attention to politics; meanwhile, I beg you to consider those Stoics who, shut out from public life, have withdrawn into privacy for purpose of improving peoples existence & framing laws for human race without incurring displeasure of those in power.

The wise ones will not upset customs of people, nor will it invite attention of the populace by any novel ways of living.

“What then?, Can one who follows out this plan be safe in any case?”, I cannot guarantee you this any more than I can guarantee good health in the case of a person who observes moderation; although, as a matter of fact, good health results from such moderation.

Sometimes a vessel perishes in harbour; but what do you think happens on the open sea?, how much more beset with danger that people would be, who even in their leisure is not secure, if they were busily working at many things!

Innocent people sometimes perish; who would deny that?, although the guilty perish more frequently.

Finally, the wise ones regards reason for all their actions, but not the results.

The beginning is in our own power; fortune decides the issue, yet I do not allow it to pass sentence upon myself; You may say: “But it can inflict a measure of suffering & of trouble.”

Golden indeed will be the gift with which I shall load you; &, in as much as we have mentioned gold, let me tell you how its use & enjoyment may bring you greater pleasure; “One who needs riches least, enjoys riches most.”

One who craves riches feels fear on their account, No one, however, enjoys a blessing that brings anxiety; one is always trying to add a little more, While one puzzles over increasing their wealth, one forgets how to use it, those that collect their accounts, & turns over their ledger, – in short,

One ceases to be master & becomes a steward.


Seneca, StoicTaoist.

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