If any man should ask you how the name Antoninus is written, would you, with a straining of voice, utter each letter? What if the questioner grew angry, would you be angry, too? Would you not go on with composure and spell out every letter? Just so then in this life also remember that every duty is made up of certain parts. These it is your duty to observe and to go on your way and finish that which is set before you without being disturbed or showing anger toward those who are angry with you. (Marcus Aurelius Meditations, Book VI, 26)
I’ve had time to consider this and reflect on a lifelong practice of emotional reaction, overreaction, frustration. Old habits die hard and family has a way to push all the old buttons. I find it hard at times to just spell the name as Aurelius mentions, one letter after the other, doing so without malice, or bitterness, or anger. It’s so easy to understand a thing conceptually and another to practice it. Too often and for too long, my lesser self gets the better of me and I give in to emotions, saying something cynical or sarcastic, short or snide. I do this with family, especially my children. And in doing so, what have I taught them?
Personal change requires awareness and a stoic control of emotions. I’m a better person if I get this right. Maybe humor and listening, empathy and a hug, doing whatever it is without strain or anger, but composed and simply as the task requires.
My children are teenagers on the brink of adulthood. What better way to teach them, than to handle the emotions of others as well as our own, by containing them, finishing our work properly, doing so with kindness, and remaining unfettered in the effort?
More than grades, more than activities and all the distractions of modern life, children need to learn this lesson, they need to observe it, and practice it, and in doing so, become good people. But I must first strive to do so myself.
I read Marcus Aurelius “Meditations” years ago, during a typical time-of-struggle that a young person faces when they make their way in the world. Marcus Aurelius simply kept a bedside notebook, where he penned his thoughts. This effort is useful for anyone, as it forces clarity-of-thinking, and offers a useful ability to go back, and examine one’s own analysis on a topic. This simple effort can yield results. Just writing it down, forces organiztion, and organization and co-ordination and careful planning can make real success possible.
Emperor Aurelius was the boss. He was the TOP boss, and great responsibility rested on his shoulders. Being able to read what he wrote to himself, as he campaigned – this is a very great gift to our Western culture. His Stoic philosophy helped him live and work and do a difficult job, where his decisions would mean life or death.
His book is not just for “Masters and Commanders”. We are all the Captains of our own lives. Each decision we make, matters a lot. Death comes too soon. Betrayal and ignorance and human greed are common problems we all have to face – and deal with somehow.
Reading how Marcus Aurelius considered these problems and confronted them, is fascinating. There is no god-fraud in his writings. He did not believe in the nonsense and superstition of religion. He knew what religion was – a thing used by clever politicians to manipulate the human-children that populate the world, just as Rome herself did. (Rome allowed freedom-of-religion, so long as Roman Gods were not dishonoured. That was part of it’s political and military success.)
His mediations are therefore even more valuable. They furnish the background thought-process, to a political model that allowed a diverse world to live together in peace. Everyone should read his “Meditations”. Just read his actual writing. (Don’t waste time reading about the book – just read the original book!) It is wonderful.
Read his actual writing, yes. Aurelius has a clarity of thought and self recognition that is timeless, and a beacon in doubtful times. I keep copies on the desk and in the car, at the ready, for rudderless moments. Thank you for taking the time to write and visiting the TreeHouseLetter.