The Work of a Human Being

The fifth section of Meditations, Marcus Aurelius’ collection of thoughts and essays published after his death, starts out with the following:

“In the morning when though risest unwillingly, let this thought be present—I am rising to do the work of a human being.  Why then am I dissatisfied if I am going to do the things for which I exist and for which I was brought into the world? Or have I been made for this, to lie in the bed clothes and keep myself warm?—But this is more pleasant.—Dost thou exists then to take thy pleasure, and not at all for action or exertion? Dost thou not see the little plants, the little birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees working together to put in order their several parts of the universe? And art thou unwilling to do the work of a human being, and dost thou not make haste to do that which is according to thy nature?”

This section speaks about the importance of joining together in community to do work as human beings, even if that work requires effort and a willingness to put oneself in a position that can be uncomfortable.  For Aurelius, living as a hedonist, or one who serves only their own pleasure, is a mistake. We are all dependent on each other, and his quote above shows that our efforts to keep track of our own individual goals and ideas is connected with the efforts of others. We pursue our own goals, but in the pursuit of our own destinies we are supporting the goals and futures of others.

Aurelius’ quote seems to fall more to the right of our current political system and align with the ways in which many conservative thinkers in our country see the world. We are responsible for ourselves and dependent for our own actions because we individually help support the whole. When we decide to remove ourselves from the equation, then our part of the universe which is put together through our efforts is lost, and it cannot be built upon. To propel society, in the views of Aurelius and modern day conservative ideology, we must all rise and do our work rather than allow inefficiencies in our interdependence to limit the progress of us and others.  We can not move forward and do our work if those around us do not support us by adding the exertion necessary on their end for a functioning society.

In general I see this quote as more outside the realm of politics and our work within a system.  I see the quote as a reminder that we are connected, that we share our humanity, and that we can build purpose into our lives through our actions. The work of a human, as Aurelius mentions above, is the most fulfilling when it is in service to others as opposed to when it is aligned with hedonistic views of success. Looking for ways to impact others in a meaningful way and being able to shift ones perspective to view the work that one does in a more connected context, for example looking for how many people you can positively reach through your effort as opposed to trying to find ways to maximize your returns, can make the work of a human become greater than individual effort.  When rising from bed and feeling as though you are doing the work of a human, it is important to look beyond the standard perspective of your work to find ways in which you can do more to benefit others, or to find an understanding of who you support through your efforts.
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