Key Takeaway #2: Be kind to people even when they hurt or attack you.
“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they cannot tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own—not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.1
It’s naive to assume that people won’t do bad, unpleasant, and even awful things. There are all kinds of humans in this world and it’s best to not worry about any negative encounters and in the broader sense, what others think, say, or do. Even when we are surrounded by the wrong and the wicked, we can choose to be good and do the right thing.
Marcus reminded himself to not get upset or disturbed by the misdeeds of others and instead respond with kindness and empathy, correcting them if possible. And if they still ignore our advice and don’t change their behaviors, then to just accept it and move on.
In reacting to such people, we must never allow our own principles to be violated. No matter how annoying, unpleasant, and even horrible things other people do, we must always adhere to the essential virtues of philosophy. We’re only responsible for our own goodness, and so whenever we encounter difficult people, it’s best to think, say and act in a courteous manner. As Marcus wrote to himself, “Keep this thought handy when you feel a fit of rage coming on—it isn’t manly to be enraged. Rather, gentleness and civility are more human, and therefore manlier. A real man doesn’t give way to anger and discontent, and such a person has strength, courage, and endurance—unlike the angry and complaining. The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength.”
When a person angers or harms us, we must work towards understanding their point of view and where they’re coming from. During such unpleasant occasions, it’s best for us to drop all judgments and aversions, remind ourselves of our own faults and imperfections, and not react but respond with positivity and indifference to any supposed harm done to us.
Marcus believed that people do terrible things out of ignorance. They are unable to distinguish between good and evil, and that’s why we should forgive them for their errors, even when they harm us. He, like all the other Stoics, was of the opinion that we are all interdependent on one another and you simply couldn’t hurt one person without hurting everyone else, including yourself.
Both good and bad people are humans first and foremost, and hence part of the same universal nature. Nature has designed them to live in harmony — humans are meant to cooperate and coexist, not oppose and fight. Rather than focusing on other people’s shortcomings and faults and letting them be a source of disappointment, disturbance, and distress in our lives, we must drive our attention and energy within and work towards correcting our own flaws and failings and bettering ourselves. As Marcus put it, “It’s silly to try to escape other people’s faults. They are inescapable. Just try to escape your own.” Just let go of other people’s wrongdoings, instead work towards improving yourself and your life and find ways to be at peace with unpleasant circumstances. Self-development is not only a worthy pursuit, but it’s also a better use of your finite time on this planet.