In the last two blogs we saw that the philosophy of Marcus Aurelius centers on Providence, duty, and universal brotherhood and is premised on active participation in the world. We also learned about his four basic techniques to maintain tranquility and his advice to prepare for each day and for the meeting of new people. Today we pick up a third flavor of Marcus’ counsel which addresses dealing with the faults and malice of others.
Take for example his advice for dealing with self-interested persons. “How cruel it is not to allow people to strive for what seems to them their interest and advantage! And yet in a way you are forbidding them to do this when you fuss that they are wrong; surely they are drawn to their own interest and advantage. ‘But is it not actually so?: well then, teach them, show them, do not fuss.”10 Another example is his reflections on those with a variety of other faults. “Whenever you are offended at someone’s lack of shame, you should immediately ask yourself: ‘So is it possible for there to be no shameless people in the world?’ It is not possible. Do not then ask for the impossible. This person is just one of the shameless inevitably existing in the world. Have the same thought ready for the rogue, the traitor, every sort of offender. The recognition that this class of people must necessarily exist will immediately make you kinder to them as individuals.”11
Marcus also has an almost Christian attitude to his adversaries. “When another blames or hates you, or people voice similar criticisms, go to their souls, penetrate inside and see what kind of people they are. You will realize there is no need to be racked with anxiety that they should hold any other opinion of you. But you should still be kind to them. They are by nature your friends…”12 Or we can follow a different course, “In the field of play an opponent scratches us with his nails, or gives us a butting blow with his head: but we do not ‘mark’ him for that, or take offence, or suspect him afterwards of deliberate attack. True, we do keep clear of him: but this is good-natured avoidance, not suspicion or treating him as an enemy.” 13 There is much more on maintaining composure in the face of others characters, for example: ignorance, disloyalty, or ingratitude (Book 9:42:3), wrong-doing (Book 5:25, 5:35, 8:56, 9:2, 9:20, 9:42:2, 10:30, and 12:11), untruthfulness or injustice (Book 6:47), propensity to criticism (Book 10:13, 11:13), obstructivism (Book 11:13) and even grief-sharing (Book 5:36).
(final continuation next post)
10Meditations, Book 6:27. 11Book 9:42. 12 Book 9:27. 13 Book 6:20.