We've all cast ourselves as the hero in our personal narratives.
We see our actions as just, as rational and as well-intended. The other side of the coin is that we see others as the villains when their actions contradict our values.
We have a name for this – evil.
But was your foe twirling his mustache, laughing maniacally as he carried out his dastardly plan? Unlikely. Stoicism offers us a unique perspective.
The Stoic philosopher Seneca proposed a radical viewpoint: everyone is the hero in their own story. He argued that what we perceive as evil is simply ignorance.
People act according to what they believe is best for them at any given moment. If they choose a path that we interpret as 'evil', it’s because they were ignorant of a better way.
Here's the simplified logic:
- Only reasoned choices can be moral
- We choose the actions we believe are best for us in each moment
- 'Evil' choices are never the true best choices
- Therefore, anyone who commits wrongdoing was simply ignorant of a better way.
Epictetus, another renowned Stoic, echoed this sentiment in chapter 42 of the Enchiridion .
He said, “When any person harms you or speaks badly of you, remember that he acts or speaks from a supposition of its being his duty.”
Epictetus believed that when people act against us, they're following their perception of right and wrong, not ours. The person who acted out of malice is the one deceived, not you.
It's a profound shift in perspective.
Suddenly, our foes aren't malevolent; they're misguided. They're not evil; they're uninformed. They're not out to get us; they're out to get what they think is best for them.
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