PURPOSE AND THE MEANINGFUL LIFE – ACQUAINTANCES – PART V (final continuation)

The emperor-philosopher’s final guidance concerns our actions among other people – from our habitual behavior to the pursuit of fame or the seeking of help.  For example, it is no surprise that he inverts the issue of troublesome people on to oneself with “You should take no action unwillingly, selfishly, uncritically or with conflicting motives. Do not dress up your thoughts in smart finery: do not be a gabbler or a meddler.”14 When dealing with others, he advises “in each case we must say: this has come from god; this is due to a juncture of fate, the mesh of destiny, or some similar coincidence of chance; and this is from my fellow man, my kinsman and colleague, thought one who does not know what accords with his own nature. But I do know: and so I treat him kindly and fairly, following the natural law of our fellowship, but at the same time I give him his proper desert in matters which are morally neutral.”15 Regarding anger and fame he sees them as passion and desire in which one surrenders oneself to the offence or judgment of others. As for needing help from others he says, “Do not be ashamed of help. It is your task to achieve your assigned duty, like a soldier in a scaling-party, What, then, if you are lame and cannot climb the parapet by yourself, but this is made possible by another’s help?”16

There is much, much more. Book 2:5 and 4:24 offer guidance on concentration on meaningful activities. Book 3:4:1 disdains wasting one’s time thinking about others faults or actions. Book 6:48 recommends cheering oneself up by reflecting on the good qualities of acquaintances. And amazingly, Book 11:17 gives a 10 point list of how the experience of others does not and cannot harm you. Marcus Aurelius is still a remarkably fresh guide to the reality of others as the furniture of the world. It is in this inhabited world where we must perform our duties and where we encounter the relationships that permit the demonstration of our capacity for kindness and our skill in maintaining tranquility. Next time we will sum up the Stoic idea of purpose in acquaintance, reviewing Cicero, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. Join me then.

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14Meditations, Book 3:5.   15 Book 3:11:3.    16 Book 7:7.

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