Through the years I have made a number of attempts to learn about philosophy, in the belief that it would benefit me in some way or another (seems like a logical assumption right?).
I’m sorry to say that I have struggled.
Although I have enjoyed some of the concepts I have read about, like the Ring of Gyges proposed by Plato in relation to ethics (if you had a ring that made you invisible, what would you do, where would you go?), I unfortunately found a lot of the concepts too challenging to really grasp.
However, a couple of years ago my life changed forever (ooh, exciting!), when I went to the local library and decided to take home a copy of Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius. After one read, I genuinely felt that this little book provided solutions to all the problems I had ever had, or could ever have. Wow!
“What is this book you speak of?” I hear you say……
Meditations is split into 12 books.
A quick summary of Book 1 is that it lists 17 people that influenced Marcus, people who had made a significant contribution to who he was, and in particular to the virtues or moral boundaries he subscribed to. This was an interesting read from a historical and factual point of view, but in truth it was far more interesting to stop for a moment and consider who would feature on my list (if I wrote one), and for what reasons.
Have you ever considered the people and the moments who have shaped you as a person? Who are they, how did they contribute to who you are?
As fascinating an exercise as that is, it is Book 2 that I would like to focus on for this blog, specifically the very first meditation, which was written among the Quadi on the River Gran (do you know what Quadi are, or where the River Gran is? No? Me neither). Anyway, here it is:
#1. Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I shall meet people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, unsocial.
My interpretation of this statement is that:
(yip, I wrote assholes)
I am sure that we can all recall a bajillion stories of people who are annoying, inconsiderate, selfish, ignorant and/or downright stupid. So, to get in the spirit of things, I would like to share the following examples:
(1) First of all, and on the lower end of the asshole scale there are drivers on the road that seem to have no awareness of the lever on the right (or left) hand side of a steering wheel that’s sole purpose is to activate the car’s indicators. You know, the lights on a vehicle that INDICATE to other drivers what your driving intentions are. They really are brilliant little features, but sadly, they are regularly under utilised, or should I say, not utilised at all by some people.
I do ponder sometimes if it’s because in Australia they are often referred to as ‘blinkers’, and not indicators, which might confuse people as to their actual purpose, could that possibly be true?
(2) I also see people everyday on the train who are absolutely on the asshole scale when they are unable to get a seat, but instead of standing and holding onto the hand supports (which I am pretty sure are for people to HOLD ONTO when they are unable to get a seat), choose to plonk their bums on the back of seats i.e. ON the hand supports. This not only greatly restricts where other passengers without seats can hold onto, but more importantly, it means that their bums are practically sitting on the person actually sitting, putting their bum in an uncomfortable, and seriously inappropriate proximity to the seated passenger’s head. So…..not…..cool.
(3) Lastly, an example which is definitely more challenging is when someone you know calls you selfish, and accuses you of putting your needs and wants ahead of their needs ands wants. Instead, this person believes that you should put their needs ahead of your own. Which, in essence means that you are not to be selfish, but you are to respect their selfishness. Sheesh! Definitely assholish behaviour!
So……..how does Marcus Aurelius suggest we respond to these encounters? He proceeds to give us 17 things to consider, all of which provide strong reasoning as to why a negative response is futile, inappropriate, and even harmful to ones self. However, the two that I feel are the most helpful are:
All this has afflicted them through their ignorance
of true good and evil.
I cannot help but think of the similarities of this response to the biblical quote “Forgive them for they know not what they do“, and…
You may leave this life at any moment: have this possibility in your mind in all that you do or say or think.
I really love this quote, and think it is incredibly powerful when considering how to act, or think, or feel.
Just think about it……….do you really want your last thought on this earth to be – that asshole didn’t use his indicators!!!!
I summary, I think the point of Book 2 is to encourage us to cultivate a mindset of tolerance and sympathy, and in return, ignorant people should not upset, frustrate or anger us. We really should feel nothing other than a mild sense of sympathy, and sometimes we may even manage a wry smile……