Several years ago, someone who I thought I could trust did something that hurt me. I was frustrated and angry. I was hurt. This person’s actions blindsided me and I wasn’t able to focus or be productive for the rest of the day. Wisdom from the Stoics–Marcus Aurelius in particular–got me back on my feet.
In this episode, I discuss how a simple step, a mindset really, will help us conquer the day-to-day challenges we’re going to face. I also share the daily habits that help me perform at my best.
Marcus Aurelius was the Roman emperor from 161 to 180 AD. He was the last of the rulers known as the Five Good Emperors, and the last emperor of the Pax Romana, an age of relative peace and stability for the Roman Empire. He was the most powerful man in the world and his book, Meditations, is a collection of his journal entries.
He wrote them to himself and he never planned to publish them. His words were the private thoughts of a Roman emperor and he’s admonishing himself on how to be more virtuous, wiser, more just, and more immune to temptation. His philosophy is one of self-restraint, duty, and respect for others.
Going back to that moment of frustration I experienced after I felt someone had wronged me. I had recently finished reading Meditations and I was reminded of this passage. I’ll quote Marcus Aurelius:
“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow creature similarly endowed with reason and a share of the divine); therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading.
Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him; for he and I were born to work together, like a man’s two hands, feet or eyelids, or the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature’s law – and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction.”
Marcus Aurelius was a stoic, and stoic philosophy has gained in popularity over the last decade for good reason. Our world continues to be out of control. There are people, whether they be on social media or in person, who want to injure us.
I love Marcus’ response: He acknowledges that these people exist and that they will act in a way that is unsavory, but then here’s the line that stands out:
Therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading.
It’s almost like he’s giving himself a pep talk. He is giving himself a pep talk.
So how does this apply to me? How does this apply to us? People are going to do some less than pleasant things to us. Bad things are going to happen. We can hope for the best, but we need to be mindful that we’re going to come across people who are actively trying to interfere with our progress.
I’ve tried to adopt this mindset. No, it’s not about thinking everyone is out to get you. It’s not paranoia. It’s about mentally preparing for every day. Soldiers put on their armor before going into battle. While most of us don’t engage in physical combat, we do engage in mental and emotional combat.
Our armor isn’t physical but we still need to prepare and we still need put on our armor every day.
This is a daily practice. There are several things I have learned to do every day that prepare me for the types of people and the types of situations that Marcus Aurelius wrote about. My daily practice includes studying the bible and other texts I believe to be sacred. It includes journaling. It includes prayer and meditation. It includes sitting in stillness. It includes exercise, going on a walk, moving my body. I’m not perfect at these practices, but when I do them, and when I do them consistently and on a daily basis I am more prepared for the challenges that inevitably come. Your daily practice may look different, but I encourage you to find what works.
Going back to Marcus Aurelius:
Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil. But none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading.
We would be wise to follow his example. To stay above the fray. To proactively prepare for the challenges that come our way. Having a daily practice will aid us as we continue to progress and strive to be our best selves.