To expect bad men not to do wrong is madness, for he who expects this desires an impossibility. But to allow men to behave so to others, and to expect them not to do you any wrong, is irrational and tyrannical.
I am A Man of Letters. I’ve been reading lately, and I have found some words I would like to share. Today, The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Here are The Meditations Book Eleven, Parts Eighteen through Twenty-One.
If any have offended against you, consider what is your relation to men, and that we are made for one another.
First… Consider in another respect you were made to be set over them, as a ram over the flock or a bull over the herd. But examine the matter from first principles, from this: if all things are not mere atoms, it is Nature which orders all things. If this is so, the inferior things exist for the sake of the superior, and these for the sake of one another.
Second… consider what kind of men they are at their table, in their bed, and so forth. Particularly, under what compulsions in respect of opinions they are. As to their acts, consider with what pride they do what they do.
Third… if men do rightly what they do, we ought not to be displeased. But if they do not do right, it is plain that they do so involuntarily and in ignorance. For as every soul is unwillingly deprived of the truth, so also is it unwillingly deprived of the power of behaving to each man according to his own deserving. Accordingly, men are pained when they are called unjust, ungrateful, and greedy, and in a word wrong-doers by their neighbors.
Fourth… consider that you also do many things wrong, and that you are a man like other men. Even if you abstain from certain faults, still you have the disposition to commit them, although because of cowardice, or concern about your reputation, or some other such mean motive, you abstain from such faults.
Fifth… consider that you do not even understand whether men are doing wrong or not, for many things are done with a certain reference to circumstances. A man must learn a great deal to enable him to pass a correct judgment on another man’s acts.
Sixth… consider when you are much vexed or grieved, that man’s life is only a moment, and after a short time we are all laid out dead.
Seventh… consider that it is not men’s acts which disturb us, for those acts have their foundation in men’s ruling principles. It is our own opinions which disturb us. Take away these opinions then, and resolve to dismiss your judgment about an act as if it were something grievous, and your anger is gone. How then will I take away these opinions? By reflecting that no wrongful act of another brings shame on me. Unless that which is shameful is alone bad, you also must of necessity do many things wrong, and become a robber and everything else.
Eighth… consider how much more pain is brought on us by the anger and vexation caused by such acts, than by the acts themselves, at which we are angry and vexed.
Ninth… consider that a good disposition is invincible if it is genuine, and not an affected smile or acting a part. What will the most violent man do to you if you continue to be of a kind disposition towards him, and if, as opportunity offers, you gently admonish him and calmly correct his errors at the very time when he is trying to do you harm, saying, ‘Not so, my child… we are constituted by Nature for something else… I will certainly not be injured, but you are injuring yourself, my child… ‘ Show him with gentle tact and by general principles that this is so, and that even insects do not do as he does, nor any animals, for all are formed by Nature to be gregarious. You must do this neither with any double meaning nor in the way of reproach, but affectionately and without any rancor in your soul, not as if you were lecturing him, nor yet that any bystander may admire, but when he is alone.
Remember these nine rules, as if you had received them as a gift from the Muses, and begin at last to be a man while you live. You must equally avoid flattering men and being vexed at them, for both are unsocial and lead to harm. Let this truth be present to you in the excitement of anger, that to be moved by passion is not manly, but that mildness and gentleness, as they are more agreeable to human nature, so also are they more manly. He who possesses these qualities possesses strength, nerves, and courage, and not the man who is subject to fits of passion and discontent. In the same degree in which a man’s mind is nearer to freedom from all passion, in the same degree also is it nearer to strength. As the sense of pain is a characteristic of weakness, so also is anger. He who yields to pain and he who yields to anger, both are wounded and both submit.
But, if you will, receive also a tenth present from the leader of the Muses, Apollo. It is this… to expect bad men not to do wrong is madness, for he who expects this desires an impossibility. But to allow men to behave so to others, and to expect them not to do you any wrong, is irrational and tyrannical.
There are four principal aberrations of the superior faculty against which you should be constantly on you guard, and when you have detected them, you should wipe them out and say on each occasion ‘this thought is not necessary,’ ‘this thought tends to destroy social union,’ ‘what I am about to say comes not from the real thoughts.’ You should consider it among the most absurd of things for a man not to speak from his real thoughts. But the fourth is when you reproach yourself for anything, for this is an evidence of the divine part within you being overpowered and yielding to the less honorable and to the perishable part, the body, and to its gross pleasures.
Your aerial part and all the fiery parts which are mingled in you, though by Nature they have an upward tendency, still in obedience to the disposition of the Universe they are overpowered here in the compound mass of the body. The whole of the earthy part in you and the watery, though their tendency is downward, still are raised up and occupy a position which is not their natural one. In this manner, then, the elemental parts obey the Universal. When they have been fixed in any place, they remain there until again the Universal will sound the signal for dissolution. Is it not then strange that your intelligent part only should be disobedient and discontented with its own place? No force is imposed on it, only those things which are comformable to its nature. Still it does not submit, but is carried in the opposite direction. The movement towards injustice and intemperance and to anger and to grief and to fear is nothing else than the act of one who deviates from Nature. When the ruling faculty is discontented with anything that happens, then it deserts its post, for it is constituted for piety and reverence towards the Gods no less than for justice. These qualities also are comprehended under the generic term of contentment with the constitution of things, and indeed they are prior to acts of justice.
He who has not one-and-always-the-same object in life, cannot be one-and-the-same all through his life. But what I have said is not enough, unless this also is added: what this object ought to be. For as there is not the same opinion about all the things which in some way or other are considered by the majority to be good, but only about some certain things (that is, things which concern the common interest), so also ought we to propose to ourselves an object which will be of a common kind social and political. He who directs all his own efforts to this object, will make all his acts alike, and thus will always be the same.
Thank you for listening. For more information about the words I have read and the music to follow, please visit A Man of Letters. amoletters.com.
Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.
Six Jumping Jacks – Our American Girl (Brunswick 3726 1927)