In Meditations, written by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, we are given an example of how to live a life guided by stoicism. Aurelius contended that all rational beings should be self-aware and conscious of the world through which they move so that they can decide how they will behave. Through self-reflection, focusing on the present, and recognizing our own thoughts, Aurelius believed that we could manage our perception of the world in a way that helps us become better stewards of our life. With these principles he wrote, “Do not look around thee to discover other men’s ruling principles, but look straight to this, to what nature leads thee, both the universal nature through the things which happen to thee, and thy own nature through the acts which must be done by thee.”
His quote is meant to encourage us to move forward without begin distracted by thoughts of others. He wants us to spend time through self-awareness and self-reflection understanding what it is truly like to be us. By living in the present moment without fears of the future or memories of the past dictating our decisions, we can become more rational in our actions and behaviors, and we can be better judges of each moment and each decision that we make. Understanding what our guiding principles are and folding them into our lives will help us succeed, but constantly searching out the guiding principles of others and nitpicking their moral character will distract and prevent us from growing into the best version of ourselves.
I think that one must walk a careful line when following the advice laid out by Aurelius in this quote. It is important to learn to judge the character of those around you and to recognize who is worth following. There are times when we must be able to identify those whose life view is in accord with ours so that we can work with them to achieve more than we can individually.
What the emperor’s quote really speaks about is avoiding spending all of ones time gossiping about others. We must learn from the good and bad of those around us, but if we spend all our time looking at the bad in others and focusing on the shortcomings of those in our lives, we will miss the good, and we will be limiting ourselves when we could focus on our own journey and growth, and how we can build from what we learn from others.