What are the rules of life?
As a Catholic Christian, the morals are pretty straight forward: “Do unto others what you wish they do unto you”. This saying is predominant in many other beliefs and philosophies, but it implies that a certain reciprocity is expected as you deal with other people. If I am treated badly, it could mean simply that I treat people bad.
But of course life isn’t as black and white as that, and the way to deal with life is much more complex. Epictetus gives me a rather weird metaphor on how life should be treated.
“Remember to conduct yourself in life as if at a banquet. As something being passed around comes to you, reach out your hand and take a moderate helping. Does it pass you by? Don’t stop it. It hasn’t yet come? Don’t burn in desire for it, but wait until it arrives in front of you. Act this way with children, a spouse, toward position, with wealth—one day it will make you worthy of a banquet with the gods.”
I have been invited to a lot of dinner parties before, and here in the Philippines, it’s usually a buffet style and people would go in line to the food plates in hand. The etiquette is pretty simple: wait your turn, take only what you need, make sure to finish your plate.
Epictetus says that this is how a Stoic should live his life.
And have I really taken this into mind? Recently, I wanted things to happen immediately for me, I want to have too much and end up wasting what was given. I’m hardly satisfied by things that I couldn’t think about anything else other than getting stuff, or making things happen before they should, and just in the process making other people feel bad themselves.
I have never considered that my impatience could severely affect other people’s time and convenience, because I place my focus on myself.
So just like in a buffet, if I ended up taking my precious time on deciding, I could really be bothering people at the table as well. If I take too much, and not finish, I am wasting what was probably prepared for by somebody, or depriving people themselves of what is given. Like time, space, or anything really.
A Stoic considers each action like that. Not just for himself, but for other people as well.