The Big Focus

It’s All Making Sense Now…

If you’ve read “The Big Truth”, then you know that…

  • Life is built on Conflict.
  • Conflict is “Competition, stress, pressure, struggle to win.”
  • Two forces in conflict until one wins is what makes life possible…
  • This includes all life…Physical, Mental, and Emotional.
  • Marcus Aurelius says it best…
  • “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way is the way”

You know that the Ancient Greek and Romans called this Big Truth Physis.

But the Big Question is…

How does this relate to you?

It all comes down to 11 simple words…

Focus On What You Can Control,

Not On What You Can’t.

Lt. Cmdr. James Bond Stockdale was America’s go-to sky captain flyboy in the Vietnam War…

He personally led the first airstrikes into North Vietnam, was there to see the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, and had developed innovative bombing techniques to save American lives and bring the enemy to surrender faster than ever before!

But on September 4, 1965…Communist Anti-Aircraft gunners scored their biggest prize of the war…

America’s go-to sky captain flyboy!

Sentenced to seven years in the infamous Red torture chamber…the Hanoi Hilton…Stockdale used the idea behind these 11 simple words to refuse being a slave…and to lead his fellow American POWs to victory behind bars!

Focus on what you can control, not on what you can’t.

That sounds good…but what exactly is it that you control?

Don’t worry, there’s one guy who can answer your question…

His name is Epictetus.

Epictetus was a Roman slave in the days of Nero. He watched as Rome burned and Nero laughed, and when Nero was assassinated, his master was arrested as part of a round-up of pro-Nero flunkies…

This made Epictetus a free man, and with his newfound freedom, he decided to use his wisdom he had gotten as witness to history to teach other people what life was all about!

He became a Stoic Philosopher, an advisor to the Stoic Soldier Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and one of the straightest shooting guys history had ever seen!

Epictetus was Stockdale’s go-to guy when it came to understanding the nature of life. The old fighter pilot liked him because…

“Even with the  most conservative translators, Epictetus comes across as speaking like a modern person” (Stockdale 186).

If anybody can tell you what’s under your control, it’s Epictetus…

What is Under Your Control?

Epictetus called the things within our control “INTERNAL.”

One the first page of his book, he lays it all out up front…

“Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and in one word, whatever affairs are our own” (Epictetus…)

This includes what we do to our “body, property, reputation, [and] office” in life (Epictetus…)  

Epictetus called the things out of our control “EXTERNAL”

What is not under our control is what other people to do to our “body, property, reputation, [and] office” in life, “and in one word, whatever are not properly our affairs” (Epictetus…).

Musonius Rufus, was a tough guy Roman Knight. He was Epictetus’ mentor…he taught him everything he needed to know.

He explained to Epictetus that…

“Since a human being happens to be neither soul or body alone, but a composite of these two things, someone in training must pay attention to both” (Rufus 36).

The Bottom Line is…

The Only Thing You Control Is


Pretty simple stuff!

But you might be asking…isn’t that selfish? Isn’t that the definition of a sociopath?

Not at all!

In fact, only by controlling yourself are you able to contribute to society.  

If you can’t control yourself, you cannot contribute to your community!

This is a key foundation of Western Civilization. Constitutional Historian Forrest McDonald explained that in the glory days of Rome…

“It was at once individualistic and communal…

“Individualistic in that no member of the public could be dependent upon any other and still be reckoned a member of the public…

“Communal in that every man gave himself totally to the good of the public as a whole…

“If public virtue declined, the republic declined, and if it declined, the republic died” (McDonald 70-71).

What does this mean for The Big Truth?

Remember, life is a conflict.

There are many different types of conflicts in life…

Man against Himself, Man against Man, Man against Nature, Man against Machine, Man against Society…

The Bottom Line…

  • Life is built on Conflict.
  • In life, you are only responsible for what you do…body and soul…
  • This is because that is all you can control.
  • In conflict, you are responsible for winning.
  • You don’t do it for evil, selfish reasons…
  • You do it for good reasons!
  • For the poor, for the weak, for the little guy!

That’s what separates the good guys from the bad guys!

Read how in our next article…

“The Big 4”

Sources Cited

Epictetus. Discourses of Epictetus, Translated by George Long. Edited by John Lancaster Spalding. New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1904.

Epictetus. The Works of Epictetus: Consisting of His Discourses, In Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments: Vol. II. Translated by Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Boston: Little, Brown, & Company, 1891.

McDonald, Forrest. Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kentucky, 1985.

Rufus, Musonius. Musonius Rufus: Lectures & Sayings. Translated by Cynthia King. Edited by William B. Irvine. Lexington, KY: Createspace, 2011.    

Stockdale, James Bond. Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995.

Recommended Resources

Fretwell, Peter and Taylor Baldwin Kiland. Lessons From the Hanoi Hilton: Six Characteristics of High-Performance Teams. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2013.

Ghezelbash, Philip. The Stoic Body: An Ancient Twist on Modern Health. Lexington, KY: Createspace, 2017.

Seneca, Annaeus. Minor Dialogues Together With the Dialogue “On Clemency.” Translated by Aubrey Stewart, M.A. London: George Bell and Sons, 1889.

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