What disturbs people’s minds are not events but their judgments on events.

What did Epictetus mean by:

What disturbs people’s minds are not events but their judgments on events.


This quote emphasizes the power of perception and the role it plays in our emotional responses. It suggests that it’s not the events themselves that cause us to feel disturbed, but rather our interpretation and judgment of those events. In other words, our emotional reactions are not dictated by what happens to us, but by how we perceive and interpret what happens.

For instance, if we fail a test, the event itself is neutral. It becomes negative or positive based on how we judge it. If we judge it as a reflection of our intelligence and see it as proof that we’re not smart, we’ll likely feel upset. However, if we judge it as an opportunity to identify our weak areas and improve, we might feel motivated instead.

This idea has profound implications for personal development and mental health. It suggests that by changing our judgments and perceptions, we can alter our emotional reactions and reduce our suffering. This is the foundation of cognitive-behavioral therapy, a common form of psychotherapy that helps people reframe negative thoughts and perceptions.

In today’s world, this concept is particularly relevant given the prevalence of social media, where people often compare their lives to others’. It’s easy to feel inadequate when everyone else seems to be leading perfect lives. However, if we change our judgment and understand that social media is a highlight reel and not a true representation of someone’s life, we can reduce feelings of inadequacy and jealousy.

Moreover, in a broader societal context, this quote suggests that our collective judgments and perceptions shape societal reactions to events. For example, the way society judges and perceives issues like climate change, racial inequality, or economic disparities influences our collective emotional responses and subsequent actions. Thus, changing societal judgments and perceptions can be a powerful tool for social change.

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