Ep’humin et ouk ep’humin (from Greek) Things that are under our control and things that are not under our control.
Of things that exist, some are in our power and some are not in our power. Those that are in our power are conception, choice, desire, aversion, and in a word, those things that are our own doing. Those that are not under our control are the body, property or possessions, reputation, positions of authority, and in a word, such things that are not our own doing. ~ Epictetus, Discourses.
This is a powerful concept to remember whenever we face any challenges in life. There is reason why this is a timeless philosophical concept. It has practical applications in many areas and versions of this message have helped millions of people in various therapeutic interventions for trauma, addiction, mental health struggles.
In this unprecedented time of covid, where randomness, chaos and fear abounds – it’s clear that the Stoics and particularly this powerful nugget of wisdom is more relevant than ever.
Ep’humin et ouk ep’humin: A lightning rod for recovery
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
~ The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr
When American Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr created one of the most famous prayers, The Serenity Prayer he was tapped into this 2,000 year old stoic expression. It has been used by AA, GA and NA as a beacon of hope and a lightning rod for recovery.
Yet even if you have never had a problem with addiction, this idea is still a very wise and helpful for decision-making, discernment of what is important in your life. Once you let go of mulling over things in life that you cannot change: death, ageing, taxes could be some, uncontrolled pandemics could be another – life becomes a whole lot more peaceful.
it’s a way of determining what to focus your energy on. The things that can be changed you should dedicate valuable attention and brain space towards and come up with creative solutions.
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…”
The Stoics knew that it was a time-waster to worry about things that we have no control over or cannot change. They believed it was better to focus on generating creative solutions to problems, rather than giving energy to the issues themselves.
“I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent—no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.”
The problems, challenges and painful moments that we face in life are our most potent teachers and should be embraced instead of being ignored. It’s only through adversity and hardship that we can really test our mettle and fully understand the character and grit that we possess. Otherwise we are simply soft-gelatinous balls of flesh, untested, weak and our full potential isn’t reached.