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Marcus Aurelius was the most powerful and important man in the world. He was emperor of Rome for almost two decades starting in the year 161 A.D.
Although Marcus was a powerful ruler, his problems appear to be surprisingly similar to the problems we all face daily. For example,
Marcus reminded himself to not be upset by the misdeeds of others and to correct them if possible, but if they were stubborn and would not change, to accept it. In reacting to such people, we must never allow our own principles to be violated. Moreover, we should never be surprised by the wicked deeds of others. He believed that people do bad things out of ignorance of what is good and evil, and that we should forgive them for their errors, even when they harm us.
Marcus repeatedly explains why the pursuit of fame and praise is foolish and why we especially should not care about what others think of us after we die. He points out that so many famous men have been forgotten, that those who would praise one posthumously will themselves soon die. He explains that there are no immortal actions. He also explains that nothing is made better by praise, the beauty of things comes from the thing itself and not what people say about it.
Marcus Aurelius’s strongest philosophy comes when he speaks on the eternally changing nature of the universe and the acceptance of death. He reminds us that all of us will die, however, we only ever lose the present moment because that is all we ever have. Nobody “loses more” by dying early. The longest and shortest life will end the same way and be finished for the same eternity.
He also reminds us that we could die at any moment and to live to the fullest while we still can.
Being superior to pain and pleasure allows us to fully accept the course of nature and focus on being virtuous. Our perceptions of events as troublesome are the real source of any unhappiness we experience, not the events themselves. Marcus believed that a person could immediately wipe any upsetting impressions from their mind and be at peace. He also recommended remembering the following whenever we experience anxiety
“Let not future things disturb you, for you will come to them, if it shall be necessary, having with you the same reason which you now use for present things.”
Marcus knew that our ability to reason is what sets us apart from the animals and is an important power that we must use to the fullest. He believed (like all Stoics) that our reason could be used to understand the universal reason present in nature, which would lead to agreement with it even if events seemed harmful. Our rational minds have complete power over our opinions and the mind only experiences suffering when it itself creates a desire for a specific outcome in life.
Marcus—who had more control over his environment than most—was also the pen behind these lines: “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
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