Remember that you must behave in life as at a dinner party. Is anything brought around to you? Put out your hand and take your share with moderation. Does it pass by you? Don’t stop it. Is it not yet come? Don’t stretch your desire towards it, but wait till it reaches you.
Do this with regard to children, to a wife, to public posts, to riches, and you will eventually be a worthy partner of the feasts of the gods. And if you don’t even take the things which are set before you, but are able even to reject them, then you will not only be a partner at the feasts of the gods, but also of their empire. For, by doing this, Diogenes, Heraclitus and others like them, deservedly became, and were called, divine.
Harken the crippled sage
Epictetus is known as one of the wisest of the Stoic philosophers, but we know little about him. We don’t even know his real name. Epictetus in Latin means one who is gained or acquired, and that is because he started life as a slave.
The story goes that he was sold into slavery by his father, after which he lost the use of his legs (some suggest this was the result of being beaten by his master). However, he showed great intelligence so his master sent him to school. It was not uncommon to send slaves to school in those days so that they could help run the household or business of their master.
Later, he was able to win his freedom and became a well-respected philosopher. However, he was later banished for his philosophy. Marcus Aurelius, considered to be one of the great Roman leaders, and a great stoic in his own right, credits Epictetus as an inspiration.
Epictetus didn’t write down any of his philosophy himself, but his students did. One collection of his teaching is known as The Enchiridion (means handbook) and was compiled by his student Arrian in the 2nd century CE. Anyone who is serious about understanding the perspective of Stoic philosophy considers this handbook to be a must-read.
Needless to say, Epictetus begs consideration. Because for a person to become as respected as he did, after the suffering he endured, suggest that his wisdom came from hard-earned lessons in life.
In lesson # 13 Epictetus used the analogy of a dinner party to teach about how we should approach life. In this lesson, he suggests the use of constraint and moderation towards events as they unfold before us. By doing so, we not only control our expectations, but it also frees our mind so that we can make the right choices.
Showing constraint and moderation is a hard life skill to master in our modern era. Since consumerism is how our society functions. We are encouraged, and some say expected, to continually buy what is new, filling our homes with so much stuff, that eventually we have to rent storage space to hoard all of our belongings. To buy is to be American.
This article is not going to be a slam on The American Way of Life. Our economic system has given us much to be thankful for. However, I think that it is important to aware of the forces outside of us, and use that knowledge to increase our personal freedom. And maybe make rational choices, such as paying our bills on time, that ultimately gives us a greater sense of well-being.
What drives the economy can drive you crazy.
The industrial revolution gave Western Civilization a level of prosperity unseen in human history. It put into the hands of the average person resources that were previously only available to the wealthy. Because of increased mass production, resources became cheaper to make, and the variety has become mind staggering. As a result, even the lower classes in modern society can live a life of relative luxury that few in history could afford.
Early on in the revolution, products were made with extreme care, and as a result, products would last a long time. But if things did break, the products were made so that they could be repaired. Thus, a support industry existed to provide parts and people made their living repairing the products made. Until recently, if our TV broke, we would have it repaired. However, things began to change a few decades ago, and now the trend is that if the TV brakes, we go to the store and buy another one.
In the beginning, making products that lasted was expected and valued. There were enough new members entering the market that they provided the demand to keep the engine running. But as the revolution continued forward, new members to the market started to decrease, and with the fear that the market would shrink, a new plan had to be devised to keep the momentum going. That plan is called planned obsolescence.
Planned obsolescence is when product’s failure is built into the design of the product. So, instead of building products that last for decades, they are designed to last for a few years and then break down. The repair market was able to maintain its survival for a few decades after planned obsolescence became the trend, but as manufacturing started to produce even cheaper products, it was only a matter of time when it was cheaper to replace the product instead of having it repaired. This is the situation that we are currently in.
But, planned obsolescence wasn’t enough. Products still had to have enough quality to be seen as valuable, but the industry needed to keep people buying at ever-increasing levels to maintain the market. So, plan two was developed —perceived obsolescence.
Perceived obsolescence is different from planned obsolescence because it is based on the perceived value of a product. The product in our hands might still work and have many years of use before it breaks, but unless something is done to encourage us to get rid of the product, then the purchases drop, warehouses will overflow, manufacturing plants will have to lay people off, and the owners of the commerce chain will stop making profit. And we can’t let that happen, can we?
Enter the saviors of consumerism. The advertisers, marketers, and salespeople. So as the supporting industry of repair people waned, the other supporting industry of advertising blossomed and it is currently in its heyday.
Let me give you a quick rundown of the two main advertising models. One is called directional advertising, and the other is called creative advertising.
Directional advertising helps people find a service or product that they want. The old fashion Yellow Pages is a great example of this form of advertising.
Let’s say that our washing machine breaks down, and we are not willing to replace it. So we would grab the phone directory and find the listing for appliance repair. Listed side by side was all of the people in our area that could help us with our need.
Sure, some of the companies paid more money to have larger ads, but the ads were designed to convince you that they were the ones that could help you out. Their ads explained why they were the best in town, provided their convenient hours and locations, and any other enticing tidbits to get you to pick up the phone and call them.
Directional advertising is still in play, but it has moved from the phonebook to the internet. Instead of letting our fingers do the walking, we now “Google It” to find the help we want.
Creative advertising is a different animal. It not here to help you with a preexisting need, instead it’s designed to first create a need in you (one that you never thought about), and then give you the solution to the need it created. “You didn’t know that you had that condition did you, here’s the pill to correct it.”
Much of the advertising we are faced with today, and the type of advertising most people hate is this form of advertising. It shows up when we least expect it, it won’t go away no matter had much we try, and it finds new ways to push our buttons so that you will buy. We got to keep the engines of commerce running after all.
Creative advertising works because it aimed at our weaknesses. It designed to play to our emotions, its target is our inner fears, the dark shadows we don’t want to talk about. And it promises to fulfill our hidden desires.
Don’t let this offer pass you by. Time is running out.
Let’s be honest here. The engines of commerce are not going to stop. Unless something really bad happens. Like suddenly running out of energy, or a catastrophic event. So there is always going to be a constant pressure on us to buy, buy, buy. Nor are “the powers to be” going to step in and make things better, because the current situation is bankrolling their lifestyle.
So it’s up to us to be rational about the situation. The solution is resting in our laps, and it is called self-control.
As I have mentioned in another article, we are emotional creatures and we tend to let our emotions make decisions for us. Although sometimes this is good, it can also cause problems that we would prefer to not be in. Like buying a brand new TV with features that we probably won’t ever use, instead of paying the electric bill. Resulting in us having that new TV, but no power to run it.
Our first step in rescuing ourselves from this tendency is coming to terms with the fact that we have a problem with emotional thinking. It guides us to make choices that satisfy short-term desires that are often in conflict with long-term goals. We need to realize that that shiny new thing that has caught our attention will only be shiny for a while. It’s going to tarnish after a week. So take Epictetus’ advise and just let it go by.
Here’s a tactic that I have found useful. When I come across a situation when I about to press the buy button, I stop and think about what is this thing going to do for me. What “need” am I trying to get filled with this purchase. And I try to be REALLY honest with myself.
When I first tried to put this tactic into practice, I discovered that I am really good at rationalizing my decisions. I can create the best reasons why I “need” something that I don’t really need. When my buying emotions are in full gear I can devise an explanation why I should press that buy button that would impress a Noble prize winner. So, I added another step to this tactic, and start asking myself, “what do I ALREADY have to fulfill this “need.”
I try, again, to be REALLY honest with myself. I search for the emotion that is trying to be satisfied with the purchase. I try to understand what this purchase will do for me, and then I ask myself what alternative do I already possess that could also appease that emotional drive. I assume that I already have something that will work, and then search for it.
It might not be new and shiny, and the other kids might make fun of me (stoics have a lot to say about this also, but that’s for another article), and the Jones might win this battle. But hey, I have electricity and can watch a show on my year old TV. Might even invite a few friends over, enjoy their company, and have a dinner party.