The Need for a Serious Friend or a Committed Enemy

Plutarch, Progress in Virtue 81f-82b

“When they need healing, people who have tooth pain or a stubbed toe go to doctors while those who have a fever ask them to come to their homes and help them. But people who fall into melancholy or a frenzy or hallucinations often cannot handle doctors visiting them and either urge them to leave or chase them off because they do not perceive that they are sick thanks to the severity of their sickness.

This is true as well of those who seriously fuck up. The people who cannot be cured are those who behave hatefully and cruelly and turn mean to those who try to correct them or help them. Those who endure and even welcome help do better. It is no small sign of progress when someone who is screwing up listens to those who try to correct them, to explain what the problem is, to reveal weakness and not to take pleasure in hiding mistakes or in them not being known but to admit them and the need to be held and advised by someone else. 

That’s why Diogenes says somewhere that for the sake of safety a person should be concerned about finding either a serious friend or a committed enemy, to escape wickedness either through direct critique or kind assistance.”

Τῶν τοίνυν δεομένων ἰατρείας οἱ μὲν ὀδόντα πονοῦντες ἢ δακτυλον αὐτόθεν βαδίζουσι παρὰ τοὺς θεραπεύοντας, οἱ δὲ πυρέττοντες οἴκαδε καλοῦσι καὶ δέονται βοηθεῖν, οἱ δ᾿ εἰς μελαγχολίαν ἢ φρενῖτιν ἢ παρακοπὴν ἥκοντες οὐδὲ φοιτῶντας ἐνιαχοῦ πρὸς αὐτοὺς ἀνέχονται, ἀλλ᾿ ἐξελαύνουσιν ἢ φεύγουσιν, μηδ᾿ ὅτι νοσοῦσιν ὑπὸ τοῦ σφόδρα νοσεῖν αἰσθανόμενοι. οὕτω δὴ καὶ τῶν ἁμαρτανόντων ἀνήκεστοι μέν εἰσιν οἱ πρὸς τοὺς ἐλέγχοντας καὶ νουθετοῦντας ἐχθρῶς καὶ ἀγρίως διατιθέμενοι καὶ χαλεπαίνοντες· οἱ δ᾿ ὑπομένοντες καὶ προσιέμενοι πραότερον ἔχουσι. τὸ δ᾿ ἑαυτὸν ἁμαρτάνοντα παρέχειν τοῖς ἐλέγχουσι καὶ τὸ πάθος λέγειν καὶ τὴν μοχθηρίαν ἀποκαλύπτειν καὶ μὴ χαίρειν λανθάνοντα μηδ᾿ ἀγαπᾶν ἀγνοούμενον ἀλλ᾿ ὁμολογεῖν καὶ δεῖσθαι τοῦ ἁπτομένου καὶ νουθετοῦντος οὐ φαῦλον ἂν εἴη προκοπῆς σημεῖον. ὥς που Διογένης ἔλεγε τῷ σωτηρίας δεομένῳ ζητεῖν προσήκειν ἢ φίλον σπουδαῖον ἢ διάπυρον ἐχθρόν, ὅπως ἐλεγχόμενος ἢ θεραπευόμενος ἐκφεύγοι τὴν κακίαν. 

Joseph Stevens, “Enemies” 1854

One thought on “The Need for a Serious Friend or a Committed Enemy

  1. This sounds like one of Plutarch’s other essays in “Memoralia”, though I have to admit that I haven’t read that book in many years, so this could actually be that essay and my memory is just foggy.

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