Epictetus part 25: Everything has a Price

In the twenty-fifth paragraph of the Encheiridion, Epictetus reminds us that everything has its price and you cannot expect to get something without paying for it. If you want something, be prepared to pay the price. And if you are not prepared to pay, then be content without it.

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Has somebody received more honour than you at a feast or in a greeting or in receiving advice? If these things are appropriate, you should be happy they happen to that person. If they are inappropriate, then don’t be bothered that they don’t happen to you. Remember that you cannot claim the same things if you don’t do the same things to get what is not in our control. For how can somebody get the same things as someone who visits a man’s door frequently if he doesn’t visit the door frequently? Or get the same as someone who escorts him if he doesn’t escort him? Or get the same as someone who praises him if he doesn’t praise him? You will be unjust and greedy if you want to take them as a gift instead of paying the price for which they are sold. But for what price are lettuces sold? A coin (obol), if it so happens. So if somebody pays the coin, he gets the lettuce. But if you don’t pay and don’t get it, do not think you have less than the person who gets the lettuce. Because like that person has the lettuce, you have the coin that you didn’t give away. It is exactly the same in the current case, if you are not invited to someone’s feast: you have not paid the host the price for which the meal is sold. He sells it for praise; he sells it for attention. Then give it to him, if the difference with the cost is profitable for you. But if you don’t want to pay the person and still get the things, then you are greedy and foolish. So don’t you have anything instead of the meal? You have received not praising the person that you didn’t want to praise and not facing his people at the door.

The basic rule is simple: if you want to get something, you have to pay for it. If the price of a good is made up of praise, service and attention, then you have to give these things if you want to acquire it. The question you should ask yourself is a more difficult one: do I really want to pay the price?  What is the worth of an invitation for a dinner party or a special greeting? According to Stoic principles, it is probably not worth giving up your self-composure and dignity. Praising somebody who doesn’t deserve praise is wrong. And a person primarily deserves praise if he follows the right path – not clinging to fame and fortune, but favouring a good and meaningful life. Stoics don’t calculate the costs and rewards of actions, but act on their principles (think of Cato as an example). If something is a good thing to do, we do it. If it is bad, we don’t do it. If someone deserves praise, then praise him. But do not praise him only to get a party invitation or a special treatment. Those things are outside of our control and should not be chased.

This article is part of the weekly Epictetus series. New articles will be published every Monday. Be sure you don’t miss any of them by subscribing here. Thanks!

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