This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Discourses of Epictetus" by Epictetus. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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When things go wrong, do you look for someone or something to blame? If so, what good does that do?
Placing blame is not a Stoic way to live. Philosophers such as Epictetus teach that it’s far better to accept things as they are. So, forget about pointing fingers in every direction—even inward.
Continue reading to learn how acceptance is better than the blame game.
Stoicism strongly emphasizes calm dignity and inner strength—in essence, that you don’t let anything upset or excite you so you can bring your reason to bear in every situation. Epictetus teaches how to remain calm in the face of adversity so that you can meet challenges with quiet rationality. Acceptance—instead of placing blame—is one strategy that Epictetus recommends.
Looking for someone to blame for your problems—even yourself—encourages irrational, emotional thinking. When you try to assign blame, you’re really just looking for a target for your anger and frustration.
Epictetus teaches that blaming outside forces for your hardships shows a lack of understanding about how the world works because you’re trying to fight against what Nature has caused to happen. Blaming yourself shows the beginning of understanding; you’re no longer upset with Nature, but neither are you accepting your own role within Nature.
Finally, accepting reality without assigning any blame shows true understanding. True acceptance means you recognize that everything, including your own decisions, is happening as it must happen.
(Shortform note: In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson explains that you can accept responsibility for a situation without accepting blame for it. In other words, when you face hardship, it’s not necessarily your fault that you’re in that situation—however, it’s still your responsibility to deal with whatever situations you encounter. To give a simple example: If you come across a piece of litter on the ground, it’s not your fault that it’s there, but you can still accept the responsibility of picking it up.)
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Discourses of Epictetus summary:
- Why you need to understand the laws of nature to be happy
- Stoic strategies for remaining calm in the face of adversity
- Epictetus's specific rules for living well