If You Desire to be Good, Begin by Believing that You are Wicked – Epictetus

a portrait of philosopher epictetus where he looks back with his face resting on his palm

I was roaming in the neighborhood library one day, glancing through the books on the shelves to pick one for reading. I noticed that the library folks had put up some quotes from famous personalities on the walls. Francis Bacon, Newton, and Gandhi were all featured. 

As I head to check out my book, I notice another quote from Epictetus on the wall opposite me. This one by Epictetus – 

If you desire to be good, begin by believing that you are wicked.

My first reaction to that was slight confusion – given what wicked means in our times.

A: Yo, did you finally get that Xbox S you wanted?

B: Nope, I got an Xbox X instead.

A: Wicked!

Thankfully, my brain woke up and reminded me that Epictetus belonged to a time when wicked didn’t mean what it means today. So he must have meant that you must accept the belief that you are an absolute beginner at the craft you plan to master. Your slate needs to be wiped clean. You need to be comfortable being level zero. 

That’s the only way to avoid your ego working against you. 

Acquisition of true knowledge of any kind- has to start with humility and a sincere love of learning.


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