Wednesday, May 6, 2009
The Confident Stoic - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. XI.09
Meditation XI.09 - The Confident Stoic - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
As those who try to stand in your way when you are proceeding according to right reason, will not be able to turn you aside from your proper action, so neither let them drive you from your benevolent feelings towards them, but be on your guard equally in both matters, not only in the matter of steady judgment and action, but also in the matter of gentleness towards those who try to hinder or otherwise trouble you.1 For this also is a weakness, to be vexed at them, as well as to be diverted from your course of action and to give way through fear; for both are equally deserters from their post, the person who does it through fear, and the person who is alienated from one who is by nature both kin and a friend.2
(1) This meditation offers an interesting mix of persistence, toleration and wisdom - three virtues acting in unison. It's also extraordinarily encouraging. It basically claims that any actions that we as human beings decide to take, will succeed - if those actions are directed toward the common good, and have been carefully reasoned. Confident business leaders, athletes or military leaders who adopt a posture like this often do succeed, except that their posture toward their adversaries is generally not one of gentle benevolence - as Marcus commands. The reason that adversaries will oppose those who are on a "right reason" path is - according to Stoic reasoning - rooted, not in willful animosity, but in true ignorance of the will of nature. When we operate with right reason, we understand that even those who try to oppose us are, in actuality, among those who will become the beneficiaries of our actions. We do what we must do in life because we know that our actions are best for every member of the community. Still, Marcus cautions us not to proceed blindly. We need to be on our guard. Stoics need to be foxy (please see Meditation XI.31).
(2) Being vexed is something Stoics ought never do, because it is contrary to nature. It is, in fact, contrary to one of the five central principles of Stoicism (sins or transgressions against reason). Please see Meditation II.16 on p.16 in the book for a fuller discussion of this topic and the Stoic concept of "sin." Being fearful is an emotional excess, and is also contrary to nature because the Stoic has nothing to fear - Stoics are truly invincible. This latter idea is also discussed in the book in Chapter 4, p. 95 (Meditations X.03 and VIII.28).
Russell McNeil, PhD, is the author of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: Selections Annotated and Explained by Skylight Paths Publishing. The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book. The published selections are referenced in this Blog by page number and section.