The classics continue to offer value to modern life, and I think we’d all benefit from reading them more often. Lately I have seen references to the Stoics on various self-help type posts, blogs, and articles, which led me to think about this bit of advice from Marcus Aurelius:
“Begin thy morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful and of that bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not [only] of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the [the same] intelligence and [the same] portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him. For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands. like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and turn away.”
The first part of this statement — the acceptance that you will meet these people, is certainly the easy part. It is good to remind yourself that they will be there, because then you aren’t disappointed by expectations. I know what I am getting when I go into the office tomorrow.
Knowing that it is their ignorance that makes them this way, and that you are annoyed because you benefit from knowing better is a temptation to become arrogant yourself. But it is a little easier to be accepting when get that there is a reason for the behavior — even if a reason is not an excuse.
The third part is most comforting — knowing that you cannot be injured by them because they cannot put their ugliness upon you is an important thing to keep in mind. Once you realize this, then it is easier not get caught up in the games, politics, and silliness. But Aurelius warns us that we need to begin our mornings reminding ourselves of this. It is easy to lose sight of the big picture when your co-workers are souring your work environment. You need to stay on the path.
The last part is the hardest one — you mean we still got to work together? Aurelius reminds us in several places that in effect — “Men exist for the sake of one another. Teach them or bear with them.”
To start I will go with the first three parts — the unpleasant people will be there; they are unpleasant because they don’t know any better; and they can’t hurt me or drag me down to their level because I know better.
I’ll have to become better before I will be good at working with them or making them better. Still, the Stoics have given me a start.