in The Meditations

It’s Not a Surprise

Almost 2,000 years ago, in his book Meditations, Marcus Aurelius says (a quote from the Hays translation):

“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.  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–not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind and possessing a share of the divine.  And so none of them can hurt me.  No one can implicate me in ugliness,nor can I feel angry at my relative or hate him.”  (Book II, Chapter 1, Hays Translation)

We act as if it’s some big, shocking surprise when we encounter this behavior.  It happens daily. Why not plan for it?

Instead of reacting with compassion, or kindness, we mirror it back: “How could you do this to me–don’t you know who I am?”

As if this behavior was just invented to vex us.  As if we are the victims of some grand misunderstanding.  We justify everything we want to do as if a lapse or a defect in someone else’s behavior justifies our own sloppy or careless behavior.

It happens daily. But, we act as if it’s a shock or a unique affront each time. We can realize that we can pick our response, and we can stop the loop and behave differently For the rest of our lives, as we encounter people, we’ll encounter bad behavior.   Why not have a ready framework to guide us in advance?

The Meditations suggest that we meet this with compassion.  Those that don’t know the nature of good or evil and they need to be treated like a child.  Not like some fully formed being that has leveled a crippling insult.

The big question, however, is what do we do when we forget this?  What do we do when  – as will happen – our own behavior is given to lying entitlement?

“Remember, to change your mind and accept correction are free acts, too.The action is yours, based on your own will, your own decision and your own mind.”

We just have to realize that we have a choice, that this behavior is predictable, and we can do something about it.  Not planning for surly behavior and preparing a response is about like not wearing sunscreen.

  1. I never really thought of it this way; planning and expecting that I will encounter
    ungratefulness & surliness in people. But it makes sense to think about it this way and to have a framework for seeing clearly. It is only when I’m afraid that I’m angry…so understanding that this behavior is part of our human experience can release me from reacting or identifying with it.

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