Monday, 1 July 2013

Time: The Benefit That Can Never Be Repaid

Such is the great foolishness of mortals, that they allow the least important, cheapest and easily replaceable objects to be charged to their accounts after they have received them.  But they never consider themselves to be in debt when they have received time; and yet this is the one thing that even a grateful recipient can never repay.                                              Epistle 1

     In the previous post, Seneca asserted that time - while we have complete control over our own characters in any given moment - is a "fleeting and slippery possession" which can at any instant be snatched away from mortals by death. Therefore we had best take possession of our time now while we have the chance, value it, and use it fittingly.
     Few of us truly value or feel grateful and indebted for this possession. While it is true that certain base men are habitually ungrateful, most of us feel at least a little gratitude for the things we possess and receive.
     A sense of gratitude for benefits received other than time is of course honourable.  Cicero, another Roman philosopher whose ethics were akin to that of the Stoics, wrote that gratitude is the greatest of all Virtues and even the parent of all the other Virtues. Seneca himself wrote a lengthly essay on the subject of the giving and receiving of benefits, and the proper gratitude shown by recipients. Any decent human being will be grateful, either to God or to his fellow man or to both, when a benefit is done for him. Yet even the most grateful of us often forget to be grateful when we have received time, a benefit that, unlike most others done for us, can never be repaid.
     How can we show gratitude for this most precious of benefits? By using it well; that is, to use it virtuously.