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Who Owns Who?

Daily Stoic Emails

Be careful that the things you own don’t end up owning you, as the age-old warning against materialism goes. It is a notion at the core of one of Seneca’s most powerful metaphors: the slave owner owned by their slaves; the powerful tyrant who is lorded over by a mistress; the lawyer who fights for the freedom of his clients but is himself chained to the profession of law. 

There is a version of this idea from the East, as well. Xunzi explained:

“The gentleman makes things his servants. The petty man is servant to things.”

If you have to take on a second job to afford your mortgage, do you really own your home or does your home own you? If your fame makes you a household name, but it also makes you a prisoner in your own home, who really has the upper hand in that relationship? If that fancy new piece of technology takes hours to master (and requires you to change your habits to get it to work) who is the tool of whom? And there is of course the joke from Montaigne, as he played a game with his annoying cat: was this his pet or was he the pet of his cat?

Examine your possessions and your privileges today. Make sure you have an accurate accounting–an honest assessment–of who owns whom. Make sure you’re the master, not the slave. 

P.S. This was originally sent on November 3, 2018. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.