There is Only One Place to Look

There was a Stoic named Diotimus who messed up. Like really messed up. Sometime around the turn of the first century BC, he committed what can only be described as an unjustifiable crime. He forged dozens and dozens of letters that framed the rival philosopher Epicurus as a sinful glutton and depraved maniac. It was an act of despicable philosophical slander, and Diotimus was quickly brought up on charges.

Some accounts say he was executed for this crime, but that seems unlikely. Chances are he was exiled or fined, which is actually more interesting: What does a Stoic do after they really screw up? What can they do?

Perhaps we can take a cue from the name of the podcast hosted by Lance Armstrong, another guy who has made big mistakes. What does Lance call his podcast? He calls it The Forward. Because that’s really the only thing you can do in life: go forward. That’s what Lance is trying to do with his life now. Move on and move forward, as best he can. 

When you do something wrong, you can’t go back and undo it. When you hurt someone, you can apologize, you can say you didn’t mean to, but you can’t undo the harm, you can’t unring the bell. Ultimately, you can only move forward—and try to make it right by learning from it and not doing it again. The same principle applies when you fall short of your own standards, and you let yourself down. 

Big or small, crimes and mistakes exist only in the past. They can no longer be touched. All you can do is decide what happens next. All you can decide is how you will write the rest of the story. You can move forward, building on the lessons of your mistake; or you can stay rooted in place, trying futilely to reach back into the past to erase what has been done. This is how cover-ups happen. This is how mistakes get compounded. Lance can tell you about those too—which were probably his biggest mistakes when it was all said and done.

We don’t know what Diotimus did next, unfortunately, or how his story ended. Hopefully, he moved forward and never did anything like it again. All we can do is try to learn from his failings, and to improve ourselves accordingly.

P.S. This was originally sent on November 1, 2019. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism. 

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