Marcus Aurelius: Meditation on Character

Do not waste what remains of your life in speculating about your neighbors, unless with a view to some mutual benefit. To wonder what so-and-so is doing and why, or what he is saying or thinking, or scheming – in a word, anything that distracts you from fidelity to the Ruler within you – means a loss of opportunity for some other task.

 

See then that the flow of your thoughts is kept free from idle or random fancies, particularly those of an inquisitive or uncharitable nature. A man should habituate himself to such a way of thinking that if suddenly asked, ‘what is on your mind at this minute:’ he could respond frankly and without hesitation; thus proving that all his thoughts were simple and kindly, as becomes a social being with no taste for the pleasures of sensual imaginings, jealousies, envies, suspicions, or any other sentiment that he would blush to acknowledge in himself.

 

Such a man, determined here and now to aspire to the heights, is indeed a priest and minister of the gods; for he is making full use of that indwelling power which can keep a man unsullied by pleasures, proof against pain, untouched against insult, and impervious to evil. He is a competitor in the greatest of all contests, the struggle against passion’s mastery; he is imbued through and through with uprightness, welcoming whole-heartedly whatever falls to his lot and rarely asking himself what others may be saying or doing or thinking except when the public interest requires it.

 

He confines his operations to his own concerns, having his attentions fixed on his own particular thread of the universal web; seeing to it that his actions are honorable, and convinced that what befalls him must be for the best – for his own directing fate is itself under higher direction. He does not forget the brotherhood of all rational beings, not that a concern for every man is proper to humanity; and he knows that it is not the world’s opinions he should follow, but only those of men whose lives confessedly in accord with Nature.

 

As for others whose lives are not so ordered, he reminds himself constantly of the characters they exhibit daily and nightly at home and abroad, and of the sort of society they frequent; and the approval of such men, who do not even stand well in their own eyes, has no value for him.”

 

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