10 Remarks For Life
by Marcus Aurelius
First. How do I regard my relation to them, and the fact that we were all born for each other: and, the turning argument, that I was born to be their leader, as the ram leads his flock and the bull his herd? Begin yet higher, even from this: if atoms are not the beginning of all things, then nature governs the universe. If such a nature, then are all worse things made for the better’s sake; and all better for the other’s sake.
Second. What sort of people they are, at the table, in bed, and so forth. But above all things, how they are forced by their opinions that they hold, to do what they do; and even those things that they do, with what pride and self-conceit they do them.
Third. If what they do is right, no cause for complaint. If wrong, this is clearly out of ignorance, not their wish. Just as no soul wants to be robbed of truth, so no soul wants to abandon the proper treatment of each individual as their worth deserves. At any rate these people resent the imputation of injustice, cruelty, selfishness – in a word, crimes against their neighbours.
Fourth. You yourself have many faults and are no different from them. If you do refrain from some wrongs you still have the habitual disposition to them, even if your restraint from wrongs like theirs is due to the fear or pursuit of public opinion, or some other such poor motive.
Fifth. You cannot be too sure that they have done wrong. For many things are done as part of a larger plan, and generally a man must know many things first, before he is able to truly and judiciously judge another man’s action.
Sixth. When you are high in indignation and perhaps losing patience, remember that human life is a mere fragment of time and shortly we are all in our graves.
Seventh. It is not their actions that trouble us – because these lie in their own directing minds – but our judgements of them. Well, remove these judgements, and make up your mind to dismiss your assessment of some supposed outrage, and your anger is gone. But how should I remove it? By reflecting that no moral harm is caused you. If moral harm were not the only true harm it would necessarily follow that you yourself are guilty of causing much harm, and become a thief, a rogue!
Eighth. The greater grief comes from the consequent anger and pain, rather than the original cause of our anger and pain.
Ninth. Kindness is invincible – if it is sincere, not fawning or pretense. What can the most fierce and malicious person do to you if you continue to be kind to them? If, as opportunity arises, you gently advise or urge them earnestly, and take your time to re-educate them at the very moment when they are trying to do you harm? “No, friend, we were born for other purposes than this. There is no way that I can be harmed, but you are harming yourself, friend.” And show them delicately how things are, making the general point that bees do not act like this, or any other creature of gregarious nature. But your advice must not be ironic or critical. It should be affectionate, with no hurt feelings, not a lecture or a demonstration to impress others, but the way you would talk to someone by themselves irrespective of company.
Keep these nine points in your mind – take them as gifts from the Muses! – and begin at long last to be a human being, while life remains. You should avoid flattery as much as anger in your dealings with them: both are against the common good and lead to harm. In your fits of anger have this thought ready to mind, that there is nothing manly in being angry, but a gently calm is both more human and therefore more virile (having strength and energy). It is the gentle who have strength, sinew and courage – not the indignant and complaining. The closer to control of emotion, the closer to power. Anger is as much a sign of weakness as is pain. Both have been wounded, and have surrendered.
Now, if you will, take a tenth gift from the Leader of the Muses – the thought that it is madness to expect bad men to do no wrong: that is asking for the impossible. But it is cruel tyranny to allow them such behaviour to others while demanding that they do no wrong to you.
Marcus Aurelius Meditations: Book 11, Section 18