Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Love Your Neighbor as Yourself - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. X.36
Meditation X.36 - Love Your Neighbor as Yourself - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
There is no human being so fortunate that there shall not be by them when dying some others who are pleased with what is going to happen. Suppose that you were a good and wise person, will there not be at last some one to say to himself, Let us at last breathe freely being relieved from this taskmaster? It is true that you were harsh to none of us, but I perceived that you tacitly condemned us.1 - This is what is said of a good person. But in our own case how many other things are there for which there are many who wish to get rid of us. You will consider this then when you are dying, and you will depart more contentedly by reflecting thus: I am going away from such a life, in which even my associates in behalf of whom I have striven so much, prayed, and cared, themselves wish me to depart, hoping perchance to get some little advantage by it.2 Why then should a person cling to a longer stay here?3 Do not however for this reason go away less kindly disposed to them, but preserving your own character, and friendly and benevolent and mild, and on the other hand not as if you were torn away; but as when a person dies a quiet death, the poor soul is easily separated from the body, such also ought your departure from others be, for nature united you to them and associated you. But does she4 now dissolve the union? Well, I am separated as from kin, not however dragged resisting, but without compulsion; for this too is one of the things according to nature.5
(1) Marcus starkly anticipates Abraham Lincoln's often repeated political maxim, "you can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time." In Stoicism however all social interactions are political, even those between friends and partners.
(2) This rather bleak assessment of human behavior possibly reflects Marcus's own political experience. He is an emperor and while acutely aware of the role that self-serving flatterers and hypocrites play in political life, he was always gracious and open to everyone.
(3) Marcus repeats this idea elsewhere in his meditations. We often cling to life because the admiration from others strokes our ego. But, more often than not, such admiration is feigned. In any case, our role is not the self-directed absorption of praise, but the other-directed love of humanity.
(4) Divine nature is always associated with the feminine. Please see Meditation X.14 in the Introduction of the book, p. xxiii.
(5) The lesson in this meditation lies in the importance the Stoic attaches to the intimacy of our social unions. In spite of the harshness and cruelty of life, we need to be aware that we can never separate ourself from the ties that bind us together. In a real sense every member of the human community is an extension of ourself. In this context a Stoic, who truly knows - and thereby loves - her own self, can never feel hate, resentment or bitterness toward others. Stoicism's preeminent role as the dominant philosophical school in the Greco-Roman world during the time of Christ (and subsequent centuries including the reign of Marcus Aurelius), and in particular, the Stoic doctrine of universal kinship and love toward all, including our enemies, had a powerful influence on the philosophical grounding of the Christian ethic of reciprocity, to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:28-31).
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.