Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Stoicism: The guiding principles

"All you need are these: certainty of judgement in the present moment; action for the common good in the present moment; and an attitude of gratitude in the present moment for anything that comes your way,"
Marcus Aurelius: Meditations, 9.6

While one could take these words as such as they are, I'd like to think they have a deeper meaning - especially when one keeps in mind who Marcus Aurelius was.

As a general and an emperor he had to appear strong, confident and unhesitating when making decisions, and not just for the benefit of his followers but also in regard of his enemies: followers looked up to him for guidance and direction whereas his enemies would have been quick to exploit any apparent weakness.

"Fake it 'till you make it" is a good advice, but the truth is that confidence and strength are something that cannot be faked for very long at the times of continuous stress until one breaks under the pressure. I believe that strength and confidence flow from self-knowledge: from understanding and accepting not just one's abilities but also one's limitations, and by being true to self instead of trying to force something that does not come to naturally.

Marcus Aurelius was one of the great rulers in history of humanity; the very example of an enlightened dictator. No doubt his call for "action for the common good in the present moment" had something to do with this...

This is how we all should act at all times, I believe.

The last line is certainly the most difficult one to accept if not to understand: so much happens in life that people would struggle to face with "an attitude of gratitude in the present moment".

But if one takes a step back it might be easier to remember that failures are usually opportunities for learning while times of hardship are what reveals what kind of persons we are at the core. And even if one would reject this interpretation one might still agree that 'tis better to remain calm and composed when facing hardships as excess emotions are only likely to lead to overreactions.

And on those rare moments when something good come our way in the present moment, one would do well to maintain an attitude of gratitude instead of allowing oneself to feel entitled, gleeful or smug.