Stoicism: A Rational and Social Philosophy
Stoicism encompasses both rationality and social philosophy, as emphasized by Marcus Aurelius. He considered humanity as a unified entity, not only as a large family but also as a single, interconnected living being, where each person plays a crucial role, just like organs and limbs in our own bodies.
In his work “Meditations,” Marcus Aurelius urged individuals to contribute to the improvement of social life through their actions. Recognizing that we are part of a broader social system, he emphasized the importance of directing our actions towards the common welfare. As he wrote, “What brings no benefit to the hive brings none to the bee” (Meditations, 6.54).
While it’s easy to act for the common good when everything is going well, challenges arise when we encounter difficult or annoying people. Regardless of the reasons behind the annoyance, whether internal or external, Marcus Aurelius provided ten rules for effectively dealing with such situations and maintaining composure.
Marcus Aurelius’ 10 Rules for Interacting with People:
- Recognize our interconnectedness: Reflect on our relationship with others and understand that we are born to support and lead one another, similar to how a ram leads its flock or a bull its herd.
- Consider their behavior: Observe the actions of others and try to understand the underlying opinions and perceptions that drive their behavior. Put ourselves in their shoes.
- Assume ignorance, not malice: If someone acts wrongly, attribute it to their lack of knowledge rather than assuming malicious intent. No soul willingly rejects truth.
- Recognize our own faults: Acknowledge our own imperfections and understand that we are no different from others who might err. Refraining from wrong actions solely due to fear of public opinion is a poor motive.
- Avoid hasty judgments: Be cautious in passing judgment on others, as we often lack complete information about their intentions or future actions.
- Gain perspective: Remember that human life is fleeting and that we will all eventually be in our graves. Taking a broader view of time and mortality can help reduce the seriousness of our reactions.
- Focus on our judgments: Understand that it’s not the actions of others that trouble us but rather our judgments of those actions. Detaching from negative judgments can help alleviate anger and frustration.
- Recognize the impact of our reactions: Realize that our own anger and pain stemming from reactive responses might cause greater harm than the original incident itself. Stepping back and choosing a wiser response can mitigate further distress.
- Kindness prevails: Genuine kindness is invincible and shouldn’t be mistaken for fawning or pretense. Demonstrating kindness towards aggressive individuals can help re-educate them, without being condescending or critical.
- Realistic expectations: It is unreasonable to expect bad people to never do wrong. However, allowing them to mistreat others while demanding they treat us well is a form of cruel tyranny. Advocate for fair treatment of others if we don’t want to experience the same mistreatment.
By following these principles, we can navigate challenging interactions with others, express our best selves even when annoyed, and strive for harmonious social interactions based on understanding, compassion, and fairness.
Conclusion: Cultivating Awareness and Applying Marcus Aurelius’ Strategies
Marcus Aurelius’ ten rules provide valuable strategies for navigating challenging interactions with others and maintaining composure. However, the key challenge lies in practicing awareness in the present moment, especially when we need it the most.
Oftentimes, when someone’s comments or behaviors trigger our egos, we may find ourselves reacting impulsively and escalating the situation. In such instances, cultivating awareness allows us to observe our thoughts and emotions before acting upon them. This enables us to respond consciously and align our actions with our core values, effectively implementing Marcus’ strategies.
A helpful practice for enhancing mindfulness throughout the day is personal reflection in the evening, similar to Marcus Aurelius writing in his diary. By reflecting on our experiences, we can prepare ourselves to better handle anger or challenging situations. We remind ourselves that anger lacks virtue, and a calm and composed response is both more humane and courageous.
It is important to note that mindfulness does not involve suppressing or bottling up our emotions. Rather, it entails recognizing our feelings, acknowledging their presence, and consciously choosing how to act based on our values rather than succumbing to our emotions.
With practice, we develop the ability to observe our feelings from a distance. We realize that while the feeling exists within us, we are not defined by that feeling. We are the observer of the feeling and can determine how we want to respond to the situation.
This level of awareness empowers us to greet anger when it arises, accepting its presence without being consumed by it. We can then channel this energy into more constructive endeavors or even prevent ourselves from becoming angry in the first place.
Which of Marcus Aurelius’ strategies resonates most with you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
In closing, let us reflect on the wisdom of our Stoic teacher:
“It is the gentle who possess strength, resilience, and courage, not those who respond with indignation or complaints. The closer we are to emotional control, the closer we are to power. Anger is a sign of weakness, just like pain. Both emotions indicate wounds and surrender.”