Marcus Aurelius: Kindness

Human nature, according to Stoic philosophers, is not only rational but social.

Scottsdale, Arizona

From Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

We are social beings

You participate in society by your existence. Then participate in its life through your actions — all your actions. Any action not directed toward a social end (directly or indirectly) is a disturbance to your life, an obstacle to wholeness, a source of dissension — like the man acting as a faction unto himself, out of step with the majority (9.23).

In a sense, people are our proper occupation. Our job is to do them good and put up with them. But when they obstruct our proper tasks they become indifferent to us — like sun, wind, or animals. They impede our actions, but they can’t impede our intentions or our dispositions because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts its purposes to the obstacle, and what stands in the way becomes the way (5.20).

People exist for one another. You can instruct or endure them (8.59).

Wash yourself clean with simplicity, humility, and indifference to everything but right and wrong. Care for other human beings. Follow God (7.31).

Don’t turn away from others

To move from one unselfish action to another with God in mind. Only there is delight and stillness (6.7).

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own. So none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry or hate them. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at others, to turn your back on them: these are obstructions. (2.1).

People find pleasure in different ways. I find in in keeping my mind clear. In not turning away from people or the things that happen to them. In accepting and welcoming everything I see. In treating each thing as it deserves (8.43).

Kindness is its own reward

Some people, when they do someone a favor, are always looking for a chance to call it in. Some don’t, but they privately think they’re owed something. But others don’t even do that. They’re like a vine that produces grapes without looking for anything in return. They are a human being helping others (5.6).

You’re no different from anyone else

When you deal with irrational animals, or with things and circumstances, be generous and straightforward. You are rational, but they are not. When you deal with your fellow human beings, behave as one. They share reason with you. And invoke the gods regardless (6.23).

Practice really hearing what people say. Do your best to get inside their minds (6.53).

Speak the truth as you see it, but with kindness, humility, and without hypocrisy (8.5).

Take care that you don’t treat inhumanity as it treats human beings (7.65).

Be gentle with others

When you face people’s insults or hatred, look at their souls. Get inside them. Look at what sort of people they are. You’ll realize there’s no need to impress them. But you should still be kind to them. They are by nature your friends (9.27).

It’s cruel to forbid people from striving for what they think is good for them. And yet that’s just what you do when you get angry at their misbehavior. Are they drawn toward what they think is good for them even though it’s not good for them? Then show them that. Prove it to them instead of losing your temper (6.27).

If they’ve made a mistake, correct them gently and show them where they went wrong. If you can’t do that, then the blame lies with you. Or no one (10.4).

Kindness is invincible

Kindness is invincible, provided it’s sincere. What can even the most vicious person do if you keep treating him with kindness and gently set him straight (if you get the chance), correcting him cheerfully at the exact moment that he’s trying to do you harm. Show him, gently and without pointing fingers, that it’s so. Don’t do it sardonically or meanly, but affectionately — with no hatred in your heart. Speak directly even if there are other people around (11.18).

When you need encouragement, think of the qualities the people around you have: this one’s energy, that one’s modesty, another’s generosity, and so on. Nothing is as encouraging as when virtues are visibly embodied in the people around us, when we’re practically showered with them. It’s good to keep this in mind (6.48).

___________________

Summary

Metaphysics

Nature & the universe

The gods

The soul

Justice & Providence

Impermanence

Death

Reason & Virtue

Reason & the mind

Mindfulness

Virtue, good, & evil

Psychology

Pleasure & pain

Praise & criticism

Anger & fear

Kindness

___________________

I’ve shortened and arranged the quotations for readability. Quotations are from Gregory Hays translation published by Modern Library, a translation by Francis Hutcheson and James Moor and published by the Liberty Fund, Inc, and the Penguin Classics translated by Martin Hammond.

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Author: Dave DuBay

Dave is a social worker from Phoenix, Arizona. He blogs at thepaintedporch.net. He's also at twitter.com/Dave_DuBay.

14 thoughts on “Marcus Aurelius: Kindness”

  1. Hello, this is a comment that didn’t get posted (at least so far) on the Good Men Project in response to your article “Are men second-class citizens? No but that’s the wrong question” or whatever it’s called. O.K. here it is:

    Great, an article which spends 99% of its time telling us how men really are second-class citizens in the modern western world but then sums it up by saying “it’s disingenuous to say that men are second-class citizens”.

    Um, what?? Just by simply dismissing concerns with a hand wave and an airy pronouncement that somehow according to you men are “not” second-class citizens doesn’t feed the bulldog. You didn’t even attempt to explain why you feel that despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary you feel that men somehow aren’t second-class citizens. Well guess what? I can claim that the moon is made of cheese but that doesn’t make it so.

    Here’s how I see it as a grown man living in the U.S. This is a very feminized country, women are overvalued here and men are undervalued. We have a government and society that will move heaven and earth to help women who get a hangnail but which doesn’t give a damn about men’s health issues whatsoever. (If you doubt that then ask yourself why breast cancer research gets the lion’s share of cancer funding when prostate cancer kills more men each year than breast cancer kills women.) We have a government and society that will build women’s homeless shelters all over the place to cater to a MUCH smaller percentage of the homeless population while men, who make up the VAST majority of the homeless in the U.S. have comparatively few shelters, it’s like finding hen’s teeth.

    We have a government and society that thinks it’s fine to allow feminists to put up posters all over college campuses saying “Teach boys not to rape!” as if all men are somehow rapists until proven otherwise but you had better believe that if some male-oriented group started putting up posters on campuses that said “Teach girls that having consensual sex and regretting it the next day does not equal being raped” then in about 30 seconds the Southern Poverty Law Center would declare that group to be a “hate group” and it would be banned from all campuses across the nation.

    We have a government and society that feels it’s perfectly fine to allow women to skate by with only 40% on average of the prison sentence given a man for the same exact offense. (Meaning if I and a random woman both murder someone I’m getting 10 years in prison while she gets 4.) We have a government and society that awards college scholarships to women for nothing more than being female so they can go to college and waste money on courses like gender studies and 17th Century French lesbian poetry while plenty of men who could use a college education get left behind. You see how we are shown every day that we as men don’t matter, that our lives, our health, our well being don’t matter at all to society? We’re eminently DISPOSABLE. You get it now?

    If not, let me clue you in on what has to be the most egregious double standard on the face of the earth. We have a government and society that tells a man who gets a woman pregnant accidentally “Oh so you didn’t want to get her pregnant? Well that’s just tough son, because now you’re on the hook for 18 years of child support payments whether you ever see that kid or not.” But yet what does it tell a woman who got pregnant accidentally and doesn’t want to be a mommy? Well it says “Oh you poor dear, these things happen, don’t you worry about it sister, just go down to the nearest abortion clinic and have that unwanted human being dismembered and sucked out of your uterus and get on with your life because you’re a WOMAN and no woman should EVER have any adult responsibilities she doesn’t want to have.”

    So while a man goes to jail for nonpayment of child support, while his dodge of responsibility amounts to nothing more than the mother not getting a monthly check in the mail the woman can have her unborn child murdered in all but name and skate away free and clear with no laws broken in the process. Excuse the hell out of me???!!! Can you possibly GET any more of an obvious double standard as far as the treatment of the two genders and what is expected of them as adults?

    Frankly nobody who feels they deserve the “right” to have their unborn children killed on the altar of their lifestyle’s convenience deserves the right to vote in any election because it’s inherently contradictory, it involves a huge amount of cognitive dissonance, the holding of two contradictory opinions at the same time. It requires us to have no problem seeing women as both
    1. so mature and responsible that they have to be allowed to vote in elections like adult men but yet
    2. so immature and irresponsible that they just HAVE to be allowed to have their unborn children murdered so they can get out from under the consequences of their adult responsibilities that their own adult actions have caused.

    Sorry but someone cannot be both. They’re either one or the other. But in this country they CAN have it both ways, acting as if adult responsibilities are some coat that they can put on and take off as the situation suits them. In sum we have a situation where women have MORE rights here than men but are not held to anywhere NEAR the same standard of responsibility as an adult man. If you don’t think that makes men second-class citizens then you’re living in a fantasy world.

    Like

    1. I’m not happy that GMP wouldn’t approve your comment. It’s pointed and critical, but not inappropriate in any way.

      At any rate, I stand by my point that gender issues shouldn’t be treated as zero sum. Neither women nor men in the USA today are second class citizens. And men don’t need to compete in the oppression Olympics to have our issues taken seriously.

      Like

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