Epictetus – The Wisdom Of A Stoic Master: The Secrets To Living A Good Life Revealed

One of the most important questions we ask ourselves is about the way we should live our lives. What is really important and how should we act?

Luckily, there is guidance available and some of the most profound thoughts on this were formed already two thousand years ago.

These words of wisdom were uttered by a man named Epictetus, who went on to influence the lives of some of the most powerful men of his era, all the way up to Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Yet this man was born a slave and supposedly had one of his legs maimed by a former cruel master, so that he always walked with a limp. This did not detter him from living a good life and achieving happiness.

Epictetus was not a theoretical philosopher living in his own world, but instead tried to make his philosophy down-to-earth and practical. This advice can be taken and applied in the real world as a guide for your day-to-day life.

His powerful words served as inspiration for many people undergoing hard times. Picture this: a man sitting in a prison with no knowledge whether he will ever get out.

The man could feel no hope, but instead his thoughts are turned inwards and draw inspiration from Epictetus.

There is a great similarity to the tale of Boethius and his reflections on life that I already wrote about. However the year is 1967 and the man is James Stockdale, an American pilot captured by the Vietnamese and put in a prisoner of war camp.

Stockdale credited the works of Epictetus for showing him the way on how to survive this ordeal. If these words could guide a man in such desperate times, just imagine what they could do for you.

We know the philosophy of Epictetus primarily through the works of his pupil, Arrian. Arrian noted down the teachings of Epictetus in two surviving works: “The Discourses” and “Enchiridion”, which is the Greek word for handbook.

It is the “Enchiridion” which is the most easily accessible work, as it is short and contains many practical lessons for your own life. It doesn’t take long to read, but can really change the way you view life in a very fundamental way.

All people search for happiness, but they usually go about it in the wrong way. They don’t realize that happiness can only come from within, from things that you have control over.

What are the things that you have control over? Your thoughts and your actions.

The main idea of the Stoics was that you should live a simple life, where you don’t concern yourself with things that you cannot control, and instead focus on the things that you can.

The world is what it is, random things will happen, and they might block your progress. Learn to accept it.

Living a simple life, where you act in a disciplined way, and where you act in accordance with your moral principles (virtue), will lead you to happiness.

For it is within you, that both your destruction and deliverance lie.” Epictetus

Below are some of the main lessons from the “Enchiridion”:
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Click-Bait, Fake News And What’s In Store For You In 2017

A while back, I wrote an article on what it means to be a contrarian. It’s someone who goes against the current and doesn’t just blindly follow the herd.

Since that time, the internet has exploded with people professing to be contrarians, but in fact using the same type of herd-mentality tactics and arguments that the average Joe or Jane usually fall for.

How do you distinguish between a real contrarian and a wanna-be contrarian? A real contrarian is someone who is a critical and rational thinker first and foremost. He is someone who is aware of his own cognitive biases and tries to overcome them.

Instead, the fake contrarians that are popping out from left, right, up, down and whatever other hole they were previously sitting in, are not only deeply unburdened by any sense of logic, they in fact actively try to exploit the cognitive biases of others.

It all started with click-bait

The internet has come onto the scene in the past two and a half decades and brought the average human access to vast stores of knowledge than any time previously in history.

However with that knowledge also came dangers.

Humans are fallible creatures easily tricked by their own emotions and it didn’t take long for internet marketers to take advantage of it.

In the early times of the internet, this was a bit harder to do. Yeah sure, there was advertising, but it consisted largely of static banners (and later annoying pop-ups), which while effective at getting money, were still relatively harmless.

A bunch of people did fall for those penis pump ads, but seriously the people who did were ripe for the Darwin Awards.

At that time, if you clicked on a website, or if you typed in a certain term in a search engine, you would be served the same banner ad or the same exact results as everyone else.

While at uni, I remember interviewing an exec of an online advertising company (the ones creating the banner ads) for one of my school projects. At the end of the interview he mentioned what the El Dorado of online advertising would be for him: people seeing the right ad at the right time.

I had a hard time imagining how that would work. In those days, you were still largely anonymous on the internet. Cookies were starting to make an appearance, but they collected relatively little significant data on you.

However, the times changed fast. The technology that was used got more sophisticated, the algorithms got tweaked and started to incorporate more and more user data (including their surfing habits) in order to get a more personalized experience.

There are many positives with that. Instead of getting all the standard ads you didn’t care about, you got things that might be of interest to you.

Also your search results became a bit more relevant to your own context and situation.

Yet, with all this you also started to get entrapped in your own little bubble. These things promoted different cognitive biases that your brain often falls for, chief of which being confirmation bias.

It wasn’t long before internet marketers started taking advantage of this state of affairs.
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The Consolation Of Philosophy: How A Man About To Die Found Happiness

It is a time of decay. Rome, once the mighty capital of an Empire spanning three continents, is a rotting, crumbling shadow of its former self.

The old institutions of the city, like the formerly powerful Senate, are still there, but entering the last few decades of their existence.

The ruler of Rome is no longer a Roman, but instead a barbarian King named Theodoric.

Theodoric was the King of the Ostrogoths, a Germanic tribe which had been previously settled in Pannonia on the banks of the Danube River. Always in search of land, they had then moved downriver into the Balkans.

From their settlements deep in Lower Moesia, the Ostrogoths had been pillaging the Eastern Roman Empire, even threatening the capital of Constantinople itself.

In order to protect his lands, the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno urged Theodoric to instead turn his wrath towards Italy.

There the ruler was Odoacer, the Germanic chieftain and King who had overthrown the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustus. Thus he had ended the Empire in the West for all eternity.

Theodoric sent all his forces into battle and defeated Odoacer, founding an Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy. Rome became just another city in his kingdom.

It is 523 AD, and a man is sitting in a darkly-lit cell, awaiting trial for a crime he did not commit. He was falsely accused and brought down by dishonest men who coveted his position.

The man, in his mid-40s, takes up a pen and starts writing. One question bothers him: How is it that in a supposedly just world, good men suffer bad things, while evil men often triumph?

Boethius, or in his full name Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, was born into an ancient Roman noble family. Among his ancestors he could count Roman emperors, consuls and senators. He was a senator himself, who rose to become a consul, and later a high-ranking official in the court of Theodoric.

Boethius had jumped to the aid of a friend who was falsely accused of treason against Theodoric and for that had been in turn accused of treason himself. His enemies brought out false witnesses against him and he was thrown in jail.

Being a man of learning, Boethius used the time during which he was locked up for productive purposes. As a scholar of ancient philosophy, he used his knowledge to draft a manuscript which in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance would become one of the most influential works of Late Antiquity. It is called “The Consolation of Philosophy”.

It was a dark time in the man’s life, knowing that his days were numbered and he was about to die. This was made even more difficult by the fact that this situation was not of his doing. He had tried to be a good and honest man, but shady and dishonest men brought him down.

An honest man was about to be executed based on false accusations, while crooked men were enjoying riches and privilege. This state of affairs caused him to lose sleep. How could this be in a world supposedly ruled by a just God?

This is the question that many people have asked themselves throughout history and continue asking themselves now. Why do good people get punished and bad people rewarded?
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Bayesian Thinking: If You Want To Be A Critical Thinker You Need To Understand This Concept

It is the middle of the Cold War. Tensions are high and the United States wants to be ready to retaliate against any Soviet nuclear strike or do a first strike if needed.

In order to be able to have the capability to react fast, General Thomas S. Power initiates an operation called “Chrome Dome”, which has B-52 bombers armed with thermonuclear weapons continuously flying on a set route reaching certain points close to the Soviet border.

As part of this operation, early on the 17th of January 1966, a B-56G bomber of the United States Air Force, takes off from the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. It is carrying 4 hydrogen bombs.

At 10:30 local time, over the coast of Spain, it begins a routine refuelling with an air tanker plane.

However there is a misunderstanding and as the procedure is about to begin, the tanker plane collides with the fuselage of the bomber, causing the bomber’s left wing to snap off. A huge explosion destroys the air tanker and severely damages the bomber.

All people aboard the air tanker, as well as some aboard the bomber die instantly. The rest of the crew of the bomber manage to parachute to safety.

The wreckage falls to the ground near a small village on the coast called Palomares. The nuclear bombs land nearby as well.

Three of the bombs are recovered relatively quickly (two are partially damaged however and cause nuclear leaks on the ground), but the fourth is nowhere to be found.

The guys searching for the bomb look at the evidence and decide that it had probably been blown over the sea by the wind and so is probably lying somewhere at the bottom of the Mediterranean.

They are facing a dilemma. If damaged, the bomb could cause great harm. If undamaged, it could fall into enemy hands. Cost what it may cost, it needs to be found.

What to do?

Put yourself in their shoes. There are some things that you do know.

A tail plate of the parachute was recovered, leading to the high probability that the bomb’s parachute probably deployed.

You have a probable eye witness account. A local fisherman says he saw the bomb enter the water. He points out the location where he saw it.

You also have a detailed map of the seabed in that area.

Enter John P. Craven.
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The Question Of Morality: How Would You Act If The Circumstances Were Different?

I have recently binge watched Amazon’s new alternate reality sci-fi series called “The Man in the High Castle”. It’s an awesome show based on an old Philip K. Dick novel of the same name.

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It is set in an alternative version of 1962, one where the Axis powers won the war and North America (and the rest of the world) is divided between Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. The territory of the old USA is split between the Greater Nazi Reich, which controls the East Coast, and the Japanese Pacific States on the West Coast. Separating them is a small sliver of territory called the Neutral Zone.

Season 2 will be released soon and the excited fan boy that I am, I have been trying to Google any news concerning this momentous occasion.

Recently a new trailer came out for the upcoming season. It showed some snippets of action from Season 2 and ended with a quote:

Most people are different, depending if they’re hungry, safe, or scared.

This got me thinking again. It’s something I have reflected on before. It often happens that people get criticized for certain courses of action that they had undertaken under specific circumstances. However who is the other person to judge if they haven’t been in the same situation and in the same circumstances? Would another person react in the same way or differently?

This is a question that goes at the heart of morality. Is a good man based on character or is a good man based on circumstances?

Many of us would like to think that we would always uphold the moral high ground under any circumstances. But would we?
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The Indiana Jones Method For Learning Foreign Languages

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You have no doubt heard the story of the Trojan War. The Illiad and the Oddysey are two of the most enduring and influential works of literature in the Western world.

They were created by Homer, an ancient Greek poet, most likely based on accounts passed down orally for generations. Even 3 thousand years after the supposed events took place, they remain well-known to myriads of people from around the world.

For a long time, it was thought that these stories were works of pure fiction. Yet there were always people who thought that they were based on real events, real people and real places. One of these believers was Heinrich Schliemann.

The Life of Heinrich Schliemann

Heinrich Schliemann was a true rags to riches story, a man of German origin who grew wealthy by being a shrewd businessman. However today he is most remembered as an archaeologist.

He was a real-life Indiana Jones, travelling the world, living through many adventures and discovering great ancient treasures.

As a kid, he grew up on stories of the Illiad and the Oddysey and the great adventures that the heroes of these tales had to go through. Unlike most other people who listened to these stories, he took them at their word. To him, Troy was a real place which was now buried somewhere on the Aegean coast of Turkey. He decided that he was going to find it.

What is not so well-known is that he was also a great linguist who managed to master many languages. Wherever he travelled, he tried to learn the local language. He would often write in his diary in different languages, which resulted in him keeping his diary in at least 12 languages.

What is most remarkable is that he managed to do this in a world without quick travel, without the internet and starting off as a poor errand boy.

Schliemann’s Language Learning Method

He simplified the process by developing a method that he applied consistently. Supposedly the system that he developed allowed him to learn any language in around 6 weeks.

He applied this method every time he was about to learn a new language. When he couldn’t find one of the elements of this method, he always came up with a work-around.

The main elements of the method consisted of constant writing in the target language, reading out loud in it, and trying to get as much native input as possible.

He was a self-directed learner and one of the main elements of this learning were books in the target language. The key to this was one little book: “The Adventures of Telemachus”.

This book talked of the adventures of Telemachus, the son of Oddyseus and his quest to find his father. Since it was set in the times of the Trojan Wars, the subject matter was very interesting to Schliemann and never grew old. He ended up memorizing the story in the book by heart.

When he would start learning a new language, he would always try to track down a copy of that book (or some other book that he had read previously in another language and knew the story well) in his target language.

That way, he could compare the two texts and learn new words and grammar structures by reading along in a new language, as well as in a language he already knew.
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The Man In The Arena – Teddy Roosevelt’s Most Inspirational Speech

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;

but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,

and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

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In 1910, Theodore Roosevelt travelled to Paris and while there, delivered a very powerful and inspirational speech on what is really important in the world.

In the speech, he praised the virtue of hard work and of trying. For him, it is not the end result that is the most important, but the process that goes into it.

It does not matter if you win or lose, but you need to try. Oftentimes in the modern world, people laugh at those who fail, yet they themselves sit on the sidelines and do not try at all.

If you want to succeed, you need to roll up your sleeves and go down into the arena, to fight your struggles like an ancient gladiator, and not sit around complaining and not doing anything. If you fail, just get up and try again!
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Operation Anthropoid: The Story Of The Most Daring Secret Mission Of World War 2

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If you had seen the movie “Casablanca”, you might remember the scene in the cafe where the German officers start singing a German song. To hush them down, the brave Czechoslovak resistance leader, husband of the Scandinavian bombshell Ilsa (played by Ingrid Bergman) starts singing the Marsellaise. Right after that, everyone else joins in.

The film was made in 1942 and one of the most heroic characters there, is a Czechoslovak resistance fighter who is trying to smuggle himself out of Nazi-controlled territories in order to continue his struggle. This guy was a fictional character, however the year 1942 was also the setting of probably the most daring act of resistance during the entire war. And this was real!

The act was codenamed Operation Anthropoid and resulted in the assassination of one of the most-feared Nazi leaders, Reinhard Heydrich. This was the guy who organized the Final Solution and planned the extermination of all the Jews from Europe.

Just like the movie, the heroes of this story were Czechoslovak resistance fighters.

The scene is this: Hitler is on a roll. His armies have crushed all opposition and control most of continental Europe. The German armies are going from one victory to another in the East against the Soviets and an invasion of Britain is imminent.

In the middle of the continent lies the city of Prague, formerly the capital of the Czechoslovak Republic, the only democracy in Central Europe before the war, and now the seat of the government of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, completely controlled by the Nazis.

Before the War, Czechoslovakia was one of the continent’s economic powerhouses and had a very strong military industry, especially producing heavy machinery and tanks. It was sacrificed by the UK and France in order to appease Hitler, but that just made him even stronger.

By occupying the country, he took over its military equipment and added it to his own army (almost half the German tanks that attacked France in 1940 were formerly from the Czechoslovak army).

Many Czechoslovak military personnel escaped the country and installed themselves in places like the UK, France or the Soviet Union, in order to fight the Nazis and free their country. The Czechoslovak government-in-exile was located in London and so were much of the forces of the Czechoslovak army-in-exile.

However the situation in their homeland was dire. The country was occupied by the Nazis, who were crushing any forms of opposition. The exile authorities were determined to shake things up.

Striking at the heart of the Nazi machine, at one of its leaders, could galvanize the population and wake up the resistance, which was losing any hope of success at this point. After a long discussion, it was decided that the target of this operation would be Heydrich, one of the most feared men in the Nazi Reich.

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How To Be A Badass Like The Zaporozhian Cossacks

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In 1615, a fleet of 80 Zaporozhian Cossack boats, called chaiky, slipped into the harbor of Constantinople and razed the entire area around the harbor to the ground. This was the culmination of a hundred years of naval raids that the Cossacks were conducting against various ports of the Ottoman Empire.

At that time, the Ottoman Empire was the most powerful state in Europe and was on the offensive on all fronts. That did not deter the Cossacks. They were fearless and in subsequent years conducted a few more raids on Ottoman ports. The bigger the challenge, the more likely they were to attempt it. The Zaporozhians were not afraid to take risks, even doing things that seemed impossible.

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The year following that raid on Constantinople, they raided the port of Trebizond. The Ottoman Sultan sent a fleet to the mouth of the Dnieper River in order to try to destroy their fleet. However in a show of the ultimate “f*%k you,” the Cossacks who were returning from their successful raid decided to turn around and once again attacked Constantinople. They caused a lot of havoc, even rampaging through the official palace of the Sultan himself.

Brave warriors who cherished their freedom

The Ukrainian Cossacks were brave warriors who cherished their freedom. They had a strict code of honor and valued courage above all else. A Venetian envoy once compared them to the Spartans, only more drunk:

This republic (the Zaporozhian Sich) could be compared to the Spartan, if the Cossacks respected sobriety as highly as did the Spartans.

The Cossacks learned how to endure many hardships from early on. Their code of honor preached that they always needed to help a friend in trouble. They would often sacrifice themselves in order to save others. Their skills and abilities in horsemanship and with different arms (swords, guns) were legendary.
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