Saturday, February 18, 2012
What kind of people do we try to please? - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VI.59
Meditation VI.59 - What kind of people do we try to please? - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
What kind of people are those whom men and women wish to please, and for what objects, and by what kind of acts?(1) How soon will time cover all things, and how many it has covered already.(2)
(1) When we think carefully about those we try to please, we become aware that our motivations are often self-directed. We desire to please because we want others to think well of us. Marcus asks us to reflect on such actions, and to be honest about what sorts of actions these really are. Are they motivated by a desire to keep a job, or to make more money, or to gain some material advantage, or simply to retain whatever sense of popularity or reputation we seek? For a Stoic all consequential actions toward others must be motivated by selfless love. This does not mean that we should never give pleasure to others for any self-directed reason. Living in society requires we maintain and follow cultural conventions and decorum. Ignoring others because not doing so might be viewed as self-serving is not what Marcus advocates. The traditional courtesies and conventions of social living require we follow cultural niceties. But for the Stoic everything is attitude. The Stoic needs to feel assured that every action is done for the right reason. With respect to cultural norms the key Stoic attitude toward cultural practices is indifference as to what consequences happen to follow.
(2) Life is very short. In time whatever footprint we have left here is erased - as it has been erased for countless others over the centuries. Whatever gain any self-serving action has procured for us in life, that benefit means nothing when we are gone. Self-serving acts never procure anything other than momentary pleasure - and happiness does not devolve from any pleasure. Happiness comes only from serving others - in the right way, and for the right reasons.
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.