“The essence of good is a certain kind of reasoned choice; just as the essence of evil is another kind. What about externals, then? They are only the raw material for our reasoned choice, which finds its own good or evil in working with them. How will it find the good? Not by marveling at the material! For if judgments about the material are straight that makes our choices good, but if those judgments are twisted, our choices turn bad.” — Epictetus, Discourses, 1.29.1–3
When we watch superhero movies, it is very apparent that the only thing that separates our superhero from the supervillain is the choices that the two make. For the most part, their circumstances are always quite similar. Tragedy strikes them both at various stages of life and they are given special abilities. But while the hero chooses the path of good, the villain chooses the path of evil, both running toward the same goal which is to change the world into a version that they think would be a better world. For the hero, it is to be a vigilante and take out bad guys one at a time. For the villain, it is to maybe destroy the world entirely and then create a new one. But in essence, what they are doing is the same thing. Taking external input from the world and turning it into a choice that they have to make based on their own logic and reasoning. And that is a very important thing to understand about life. The world is the same for everyone, for the most part. Everyone is experiencing some form of tragedy in their lives. But it is our reasoning for how to perceive these events and then make a choice on how to act on them that makes all the difference. The stoics warn us that it is vital to keep our logic and reasoning straight (and not corrupted) in order for us to make good judgments that bring something positive and productive in our lives and in the lives of the people around us. Our logic and reasoning abilities make all the difference between whether we turn out to be a superhero or a supervillain in the story of our lives. Hence, we must ensure we keep these faculties in good shape by sharpening them with good books written by people much smarter than us.
This article is a part of my Stoic Musings challenge, inspired by the book “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, where I take a quote from the book and reflect on it, every day.