Thursday, May 19, 2011
Sticks and Stones - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VII.14
Meditation VII.14 - Sticks and Stones - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Let there fall externally what will on the parts which can feel the effects of this fall.(1) For those parts which have felt will complain, if they choose.(2) But I, unless I think that what has happened is an evil, am not injured. And it is in my power not to think so.(3)
(1) This important Stoic teaching is reflected today in the idiom, sticks and stones may break my bones (but words will never hurt me). The body is an envelope circumscribing the mind and nothing can touch the mind, because the mind is by nature immutable.
(2) The body can and will most likely react to external forces, and, it may "complain." This is entirely natural and normal and an essential animal survivcal mechanism.
(3) The Stoic remains essentially indifferent to physical assault. This does not mean we should leave ourselves exposed to injury. Inattentive, incautious, unwary, indiscreet, or reckless behaviors are foolhardy and opposed to reason. However we should never fear injury from any action that is done in conformance with nature. Nothing that happens to the body can be considered opposed to the course of nature whether it is caused by accident, or a deliberate assault. We will be injured; we will suffer from disease; we will die. These are things we must expect - they are inevitable and thus unavoidable. To think that a physical or psychological assault is an evil is to misunderstand the nature of evil. Evils occur when we decide to live or act contrary to the law of nature. The sources of all evils come from within when we choose to withdraw ourselves from the human community; when we are dissatisfied with what nature has brought to our lives; when we react to disturbances (both pleasures and pains) with excessive emotionality; and when we fail to exercise our greatest gift - our power of reason.
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.