Saturday, February 10, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B11:18

This is a really long passage and does not require much explanation.  Marcus outlines nine and even ten suggestions and guideposts to remember when dealing with people.

1. what is my relationship with them?

2. don't be intimidated by them

3. if they are right, great.  if not, attempt to teach

4. check your assumptions; you may be at fault and you should give others the benefit of the doubt

5. keep checking assumptions and be sure to have all the context - life is complicated

6. if you really lack patience with people, remember it'll all be over soon

7. ultimately, your opinion and reaction is your own regardless of what others think or do

8. when you are angry, you're just doubling down on pain

9. you can "kill" the orneriest people with kindness

10. BONUS ADVICE: a copperhead snake is gonna bite; ain't no way around that.  you don't get a special pass - there is no such card that you can present to a copperhead, which will prevent it from biting you.  Apply this to people: she is going to act that way.  It's wild to think that she will act toward you differently that she acts towards everybody else.  In short, don't be surprised.

And with that, read chapter 18 of Book 11 and see what else you can glean from Marcus Aurelius' advice.

First. How do I regard my relation to them, and the fact that we were all born for each other: and, turning the argument, that I was born to be their leader, as the ram leads his flock and the bull his herd? But start from first principles. If not atoms, then nature governing all: if so, then the lower in the interests of the higher, and the higher for each other.

Second. What sort of people they are at table, in bed, and so on. Most of all, what sort of behaviour their opinions impose on them, and their complacent pride in acting as they do.

Third. If what they do is right, no cause for complaint. If wrong, this is clearly out of ignorance and not their wish. Just as no soul likes to be robbed of truth, so no soul wants to abandon the proper treatment of each individual as his 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 proclivity 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 are not even sure that they are doing wrong. Many things are done as part of a larger plan, and generally one needs to know a great deal before one can pronounce with certainty on another's actions.

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 which trouble us - because these lie in their own directing minds - but our judgements of them. Well, remove these judgements, make up your mind to dismiss your assessment of some supposed outrage, and your anger is gone. And how to remove them? 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 robber, a rogue!

Eighth. The greater grief comes from the consequent anger and pain, rather than the original causes of our anger and pain.

Ninth. Kindness is invincible - if it is sincere, not fawning or pretence. What can the most aggressive man do to you if you continue to be kind to him? If, as opportunity arises, you gently admonish him and take your time to re-educate him at the very moment when he is trying to do you harm? 'No, son, we were born for other purposes than this. There is no way that I can be harmed, but you are harming yourself, son.' And show him delicately how things are, making the general point that bees do not act like this, or any other creatures 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 himself 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 gentle calm is both more human and therefore more virile. 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.

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