The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, , at sacred-texts.com
When a man seems to have talked frankly to us about his own affairs,. how we are drawn to communicate our own secrets to him and think this is frankness! First because it seems unfair to have heard our neighbour's affairs and yet not give him a share of our own in turn: next because we think we shall not give the impression of being frank if we are silent about our own affairs. In fact we often find men in the habit of saying, 'I've told you all my affairs, won't you tell me any of yours? How it that?' Besides we think we may safely confide in one who has already confided his affairs to us: for we have a sort of feeling that he would never talk of our affairs for fear that we should talk of his. This is exactly the way in which reckless persons are caught by soldiers in Rome. A soldier sits by you in civilian dress, and begins to speak ill of the Emperor: then, as you have, so to speak, taken security from him for his good faith in the fact that he began the abuse, you are led to speak your own mind and so are arrested and imprisoned. The same sort of thing happens to us in ordinary life. Still, though he has confided his affairs to me with security, am I to do the same to the first man I meet? No, I hear and hold my tongue, if I am that sort of man, but he goes off and tells every one. Then, if I hear what he has done, if I am like him, I go and tell his secrets, because I want to have my revenge, and so I bring confusion to others and myself. But if I bear in mind, that one man does not harm another, but that it is his own acts which help or harm a man, I achieve this conquest—that I abstain from doing the same as he did, but still my own babbling has put me in the position I am in.
'Yes,' you say; 'but it is unfair to hear your neighbour's secrets, and give him no share of your own in return.'
Man, did I invite your confidences? Did you tell me your secrets on conditions, that you might hear mine in return? If you are a babbler and think every one you meet is a friend, do you want me to be like
yourself? What! if you have done well to confide in me, but it is not possible to confide in you and do well, do you still want me to unbosom myself? That is just as though I had a sound cask and you an unsound one, and you came and handed over your wine to me to put it into my cask, and then were vexed that I did not trust my wine to you, because your cask had a hole in it.
What becomes of your equality now? You trusted to one who is trustworthy, self-respecting, who believes that good and harm depend on his own activities and on nothing outside: would you have me confide in you, you who have made light of your own will and want to get pelf or office or advancement at court, even at the cost of slaying your children like Medea? Where is the equality in that?
No, show yourself to me as one who is trustworthy, self-respecting, safe, show that your judgements are those of a friend, show that your vessel is not unsound, and then you will see that I will not wait for you to confide your affairs to me, but will come to you myself and ask you to hear mine. For who is there that will not use a goodly vessel, who that despises a loyal and faithful counsellor, who that will not gladly welcome one who is ready to share the burden of his distresses and to relieve him by the very fact of sharing in them?
'Yes; but I trust you, and you do not trust me.'
In the first place you do not trust me; you are only garrulous and therefore cannot keep anything back. For if what you say is true, trust your secrets to me and no one else: instead of which, whenever you see any one at leisure, you sit down by him and say, 'My brother, you are the dearest friend I have; I beg you to listen to my story'. And you do this to those you have not known even for a short while. If you really trust me, you trust me, of course, because I am trustworthy and self-respecting, not because I told you my secrets. Let me too then be allowed to think as you do. Prove to me that if a man tells his secrets to another, he is therefore trustworthy and self-respecting. If that were so, I should have gone about the world telling every man my affairs, if that were going to make me trustworthy and self-respecting. It is not really so. No, to be trustworthy a man needs judgements beyond the ordinary. If you see that a man is devoted to things outside his own will and has made his will subject to these, be sure that he has countless persons who hinder and constrain him. He has no need of a pitch-plaster or a rack to make him reveal what he knows, but the nod of a pretty maid, if it so chance, will shake his principles, a kindness from one of Caesar's officers, a lust for office or inheritance, and countless other motives such as these. You must therefore remember generally, that confidences require trust and trustworthy principles: and where can you easily find these nowadays? Let me be shown a man who is so
minded as to say, 'I have no concern except with what is my own, with what is beyond hindrance and by nature free. This is the true good, and it is mine: all else I leave to the Giver of events to decide, and raise no question.'