A short lesson today on dealing with wrongdoers, based once more on a couple of Marcus’ Meditations:
It’s madness to pursue the impossible;
It’s impossible that people of bad character would not behave such as this.
(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.17)
Other people are simply pursuing what they believe to be best. They do what they do because they think it is the best action to take. We need to learn to accept this, and therefore remain calm and unbothered when we are the target of actions of “people of bad character.”
Another person has wronged me? Let that be his ordeal; he has his own disposition, and his actions are his own. For myself, I currently have what the nature of the Universe wills me to have, and I’m doing what my own nature wills that I should do.
(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.25)
If someone does wrong to us, we need to leave that as their problem. As Stoics who possess philosophical wisdom, it is our responsibility to respond to every occasion with nothing but Virtuous actions (with self-control, justice, courage, and wisdom).
What is immoral or wicked behavior? It is something that you’ve seen very often. And in regard to everything that will happen in the future, be ready to apply this thought: this immoral behavior is something that you have often seen. For everywhere, high and low, you will find the same old things: the things that fill the histories of the distant past, and of the intervening ages, and of recent times, and fill our cities and our households to this very day. There is nothing new; everything is long familiar, and swift to pass.
(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 7.1)
Some people are bothered by Marcus’ pessimism in this one. I think the biggest misconception about Stoicism is that people think Stoics just believe that the world sucks and there’s no way around this. The end. It’s true, Stoics acknowledge that bad behavior is a simple fact of life among human beings. It’s always been and always will be, so we shouldn’t be surprised at all when we find ourselves the target of it. But the Stoics add a clause to the end of this: Nevertheless, we have our own lives to live and duties to fulfill. Dealing with bad behavior is a part of life, but we march past it and forward, continuing to strive to fulfill our duties.
It’s a special characteristic of human beings to love even those who stumble. And that feeling arises as soon as you remember that these are your brothers and they do wrong out of ignorance and against their will; and as soon as you remember that life is short and soon both you and the wrongdoer will be dead; and as soon as you remember, above all, that he has not caused you any harm. For his wrong actions have not caused your ruling center to become worse than it was before.
(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 7.22)
Do you remember this quote from the last chapter?:
Love only that which happens to you and is spun as the thread of your destiny; for what could be better suited to you?
(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 7.57)
We learned that we should love our Fates for what they are; they have been prescribed by the Universe. And in this Meditation today, Marcus is connecting the dots: if we are to love our Fates, and if your Fate includes dealing with this person who has wronged you somehow, then you should also love this person despite their wrongdoings, simply because they are part of this wonderful Fate you’ve been prescribed! We’re advised to remember that people act badly because they are ignorant of the true Good. In any case, their actions can’t actually harm us, because the only way we can be harmed is if we allow ourselves to give in to the same bad behavior. Aaaand if we did that, then we’d be the ones harming ourselves.
Don’t be angry. Don’t be ruffled. Don’t be surprised. Don’t be harmed. LOVE THEM!
In a nutshell, when people wrong us:
- We definitely shouldn’t be angry:
- We know that people act badly because they simply don’t know the Virtuous way to act.
- We shouldn’t be ruffled:
- Their bad behavior is their own problem, not ours.
- We shouldn’t be surprised:
- Bad behavior has been around forever, we’ve seen it all the time, and it’s always going to be here.
- We shouldn’t be harmed:
- The only way we ourselves are harmed is if we allow ourselves to act without Virtue.
- We should love them:
- They are part of our Fate prescribed by the Universe. Love them for being part of this wonderful Fate!