We are now more than half way through Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, or at the least what I think are the best highlights from that foundational Stoic book.
Near the beginning we find two statements of crucial Stoic precepts. At #5, Marcus says: “in whatever I do, either by myself or with another, I must direct my energies to this alone, that it shall conduce to the common interest and be in harmony with it,” and at #11 he writes: “To the rational animal the same act is at once according to nature and according to reason.” The two combined are a good reminder of the Stoic idea of cosmopolitanism (and its associated virtue of justice), as well as of what it means to live “according to nature“: it means human nature, and human nature is the nature of a social animal capable of rationality.
Marcus then reminds himself (at #22) that — as a consequence of the above — we need to treat our fellow human beings with charity: “It is peculiar to man to love even those who do wrong. And this happens, if when they do wrong it occurs to you that they are fellow humans and that they do wrong through ignorance and unintentionally, and that soon both of you will die; and above all, that the wrongdoer has done you no harm, for he has not made your ruling faculty worse than it was before.”
A bit later on (#27) he writes about how one should appreciate what one has, while at the same time not becoming too attached to it, a reminder of Epictetus’ famous dictum that we don’t actually own anything (or anyone), we just “borrow” them: “Think not so much of what you lack as of what you have: but of the things that you have, select the best, and then reflect how eagerly you would have sought them if you did not have them. At the same time, however, take care that you do not through being so pleased with them accustom yourself to overvalue them, so as to be disturbed if you should ever not have them.”
I like the reflection Marcus engages in at #61, using the metaphor of the wrestler for how one might conduct one’s life: “The art of life is more like the wrestler’s art than the dancer’s, in respect of this, that it should stand ready and firm to meet onsets that are sudden and unexpected.”
And at #62 we get some cogent advice on how to deal with people who offend or adulate us (the former, surprisingly, happened pretty often even to an Emperor!): “Constantly observe who those are whose approbation you wish to have, and what ruling principles they possess. For then you will neither blame those who offend involuntarily, nor will you want their approbation if you look to the sources of their opinions and appetites.” Indeed.