How should we respond to people who wrong us? We’ve already discussed what we should remember, or process cognitively. But what should we actually do? In this short lesson, Marcus provides two simple options that we should act upon as Virtuous characters, and he reminds us why humans are even capable of kindness in the first place.
The human race is a family.
Human beings have come into the world for the sake of one another. So either instruct them or endure them patiently.
(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 8.59)
Human beings are part of a team, part of a family. To turn against someone, even if they have wronged you, is to turn against family. So either correct their mistake or show them kindness (see next Meditation).
If you can’t correct someone’s bad behavior, at least show them kindness. This is the true purpose of kindness, if only we would learn how to use it.
If you can, show them the error of their ways. But if you cannot, remember that kindness was granted to you for this purpose. The gods themselves are kind to such people; and even help them to achieve external things such as health, wealth, and reputation—that’s how kind the gods are. You are capable of the same kindness, if you want. What’s stopping you?
(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 9.11)
Fascinating. Marcus provides an explanation for why human beings are capable of this thing called “kindness.” He says that we were given the ability to be kind specifically so we can deal with people who have acted wrongly. Think about it: kindness to those who have never done anything against you? That seems more like just being polite. But kindness toward someone who has wronged you? That’s true kindness. Marcus says that the first thing we should do is the ultimate act of kindness: try to show the person the error of their ways. But if our character is not strong enough to stand Virtuously through that, then we can at least show the person kindness at a base level.
“If you have the spirit for it, cure his character.”
If someone seems to have done wrong, ask yourself, “How can I be sure that his actions really were wrong?” And even if he did do wrong, how do I know that he hasn’t already condemned himself for his own actions? Wishing that the wicked would not do wrong is like wishing for babies to never cry, for horses to never neigh, for dogs to never bark, or for anything else that is inevitable not to happen. What else could a wicked person do with that sort of wicked character? If you have the spirit for it, cure his character.
(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 12.16)
Make it a point today to take a step back and think about your reaction when people wrong you. “Think before you act.” Is it possible to gently show them their mistake? At the very least, make a pointed effort to remain undisturbed and to continue showing the kindness which you were granted to use as a human being.