Calm down, young man! Why are you taking so personally the failings of another human? Don’t forget that he cannot take your peace of mind from you unless you surrender it willingly. Look at your situation, and what this person has selfishly done, and ask yourself: Is it worth getting so riled up about so trivial a matter? You still have your freedom, your health, your intellect. Maybe if he threatened one of those you’d have the right to feel annoyed. Anything else is better left to indifference unless you wish to lose sleep over minor slights. And if this is a matter you have some power to correct or overcome, then do that instead of whining about the injustices committed by one ant against another.
What does a person really need? Shelter, yes. And clothing. Food and water too. Friends and company.
Anything more is superfluous, and even these basic necessities can be abused. Does a man really need a three-storey, ten room mansion? Does a woman need gourmet food every night? Are children naked without the most expensive brands of clothing?
The answer is obvious. What is not obvious is why, knowing all this, you choose to waste your money of what is not needed, sacrificing your security and peace of mind for something that can easily be taken from you by a thief.
Why do you surrender what is in your control to gain what is not?
This is a good practice, passed down to us from the ancients:
Remember that you are not alone in the world, and that without the help of Nature and of other people, you cannot exist. When you are feeling superior to others, then it is time to close your eyes and lift your mind up out of your body.
First, see yourself from above your home; now above your town; now your country. See how small you are?
Keep going: now see the Earth, your home in the heavens, from the edge of the solar system–a pale blue dot. Is your pride deflated yet? Keep going, for the best remedy to pride is humility, and the best way to cultivate that is to realize that everything you can see with your own eyes (the distant stars included) is so infinitesimally small that our entire galaxy pales in comparison to a grain of sand on the beach.
Marcus Aurelius wants to know why some people value what others think about them more than what they think of themselves, especially when the truth is that all people love themselves more than any other person. This is a good question, but there is another one that needs to be asked. It is the opposite side of that coin, which may only apply to a smaller population but is still worth asking, and it is this: If all the people you know and value say good things about you, why do you refuse to believe them?
If it is possible to be mistaken in valuing others’ opinions of yourself, it must also be possible to be mistaken in regards to your own opinion of yourself. It is criminal to think you are better than you really are. This makes you insufferable. But it is a greater crime still to devalue yourself, for in so doing you are limiting the potential good you can do in the world.
In all these cases, you are not seeing reality as it truly is. And if you cannot see reality, then you are no good to anyone, least of all to yourself and your desire to live virtuously.
Very few things are in reality as bad as they seem to be in our imaginations. You have someone you must confront? Some person with whom you must be honest and open up your heart? It is only human nature to fear the worst from such a meeting, but the reality is most people are more reasonable than you give them credit for.
When Seneca the Younger said that we suffer more in our imaginations than in reality, this is what he meant: we can think of far worse to do to ourselves than someone else can, precisely because we know those things we fear the most.
But there is another side to keep in mind: so what if you confront that person and the worst comes to pass, if you open your heart only to be rejected? How is this any worse than what you were already imagining? I submit that not only is it not worse, it is in fact a better situation in which to find yourself. You see, no state of being is better than knowing the truth, and knowing how you actually stand with someone is much better than imagining your situation.
This, then, is the secret of right thinking: to have an attitude that says it is better to know the truth, however unpleasant, than to live in a fantasy.
All trust begins with yourself. If you do not trust yourself, how can you expect to trust anyone else? If you say to yourself, “I do not trust my brother or sister, my wife, or my friend,” then trust yourself enough to ask why that is. It is likely that, if they have done nothing deserving of your mistrust, the root of mistrust lies within you. For if you cannot trust your brother or sister, your wife or your friend, why would you call any of them by those names? Instead, examine yourself to learn why you refuse to trust the very people you are supposed to trust.
Marcus Aurelius asks, “Are you surprised to find a fig tree bearing figs?” By this he means that all people act according to their shared human nature. But just as there are varieties of figs, so too there are varieties of humans. This one is patient; that one is not. This one is focussed and driven; that one is not.
You deal with young people. Is there a more bizarre population in the world? How then can you be upset when a boy of fifteen does the things a boy that age typically does? He is merely acting in the ways that his variety of fig acts. Accept him. Do not be angry. And show him a better way by your own actions.
Be careful what you tell others, especially in regards to your good qualities. The moment they hear that you are a philosopher or philanthropist or open minded, they will begin noticing all the ways you do not measure up to your own estimation.
In the same vein, and for the same reason, be careful whom you decide to admire. For all people are imperfect, and unless you are prepared to be disappointed, you do not help yourself by gazing with admiring eyes on others.
No one likes tests, but without them we are never sure of our growth. Not all tests are of paper and pencil. Some bore so deeply into the soul that you will feel wrung out like a wet rag afterwards. Once the trauma of testing is past, however, the path forward will open up again: either to fix your errors or press onward and upwards–and both of those can be considered a victory.
Like water to the body, so is love to the soul. But you must be the one to drink: the waters of the earth do not just flow into your mouth.