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.