Examining Epictetus #38: Inward Beauty

A somewhat fit body, clothes that fit well, good hygiene. When I am out in public, this is the way I want to present myself. I don’t want to look like I am indifferent and have little regard for my external appearance. Some may consider this vanity. I consider it appropriate and professional. It is not easy making good first-impressions and opening new networks when your appearance causes others to shy away from you.

But wait you say. Shouldn’t we focus on the inside more than the outside? Why should we be judgmental of another’s appearance? They cannot help what they look like. To this, my response is that I do not judge the things that are outside one’s control. And though I am responsible for what is within my control, I try not to judge what is within another’s control. After all, one’s choices are appropriate to them and right in their eyes. Therefore, I will do my best not to judge them at all. But regarding my own person, I will continue to do my best not to be repellant to others.

Give me beauty in the inward soul; may the outward and the inward man be at one.

Socrates

My true focus is on the inward soul. This is the part of me that is eternal. The outward shell will eventually succumb to the ravages of age and dis-ease. The body will break down and be no more. I can do my best to delay the process, but ultimately time will be the victor. Death is inevitable, and I will return to the dust from whence I sprang.

If  I want to be beautiful, then it is to the inward soul I must turn. This is the true beauty I seek. So, how do I make myself beautiful? It begins with choice.

You are not your body and hair-style, but your capacity for choosing well. If your choices are beautiful, so too you will be.

Epictetus

Inward beauty is the pinnacle of virtue. And to be virtuous, one must continually make good choices. Let us look at the four cardinal virtues.

Wisdom

Wise choices are well thought-out. They are often made through good counsel and with the best intentions for not only the individual but also for those around them. A fool does not do this. Their choices are both rash and irrational. A fool will repeat his mistakes because he fails to learn from his poor choices.

Discipline

Those lacking discipline fail to see the big picture. They might have an idea of the greater rewards to come, but they choose immediate gratification available to them now. They choose not to wait. Rather than keep working, they make the choice of least resistance.

Discipline is a matter of staying the course unto the end. Small, fleeting rewards pale in comparison to the greater treasures that come to the persistent, pro-active, and patient.

Justice

Do the right thing. The righteous will do this consistently. The wicked will not.

I can’t say I have always been consistent, but I do my best. I’m reminded of these words from the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers:

Gentlemen, we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.

Vince Lombardi

I can strive for perfection and who knows, maybe I’ll catch excellence along the way. I can protect my inner citadel with filters on the things my mind consumes. I can think before I act in a way that is beneficial to more than only myself. When I see fraud, I can call it out lest I too become fraud.* These things are within my control. This is the path of the righteous.

Courage

About 30 centuries ago, King Solomon gave us this proverb:

The lazy man says, “There is a lion outside! I shall be slain in the streets!”

Proverbs 22:13

Lions are fearsome creatures that can wreak havoc on a village. If everybody barred their doors and hid inside what would happen? Back in Solomon’s day, there was no doorstep delivery by drones, no indoor plumbing, or electricity to power the refrigerator and streaming services. 3, 4, and 5G was unheard of. Cabin fever wasn’t the worst problem one faced. However, starvation, dehydration, and sanitation were. It would be preferable to deal with the threat of a lion outside than to stay locked down within the confines of one’s home. The heroes back in the day courageously went about their business. And if there was a lion walking down the street, they dealt with it.

Threats to our existence forcing us to stay within the safety of our homes have been around long before anything we have seen over the last couple of years. Predators, cosmic impacts, plagues, and war have taken its toll on our species, yet we have survived. Humanity is resilient, and it was not by hiding. It was not by staying in place. It was through action. And that takes courage.

Courage is a beautiful choice. Where others seek shelter, the bold go forth. They move themselves, their communities, and their species toward progress. We can either be stagnant in our evolution, or we can take the required steps for growth.


Socrates understood that beauty starts on the inside. Epictetus, who undoubtedly studied Socrates, further elaborated on this concept because the world still preferred external beauty over the internal. Today, things have not changed. We continue to chase after the fleeting and ignore the eternal.

We may live in this world, but we don’t have to do what the rest of the world does. We can look inward and create a beautiful soul. We can make our inner lights shine so bright that others will admire the beauty we possess. This beauty we can take with us into the next life.


*If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud. -Nicholas Nassim Taleb

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