“For the pride which is proud of its want of pride is the most intolerable of all.” Marcus Aurelius wrote near the end of his common place book published as Meditations. He wrote this after encouraging a simple lifestyle, free from desires for material possessions or fame, and instead ruled by reason and virtue. What Aurelius throughout his book encourages us to do is live a life where we are not striving to reach the goals of others or to seek success for the purpose of impressing others. He encourages us to abandon that pride, think deeply about others, and to live a humble life, recognizing that our time on Earth is finite. For Aurelius the most important thing we can develop is our relationships, and things like pride get in the way of becoming a truly connected and compassionate person in the lives of those around us.
Before the quote above Aurelius writes, “Think of the eager pursuit of anything conjoined with pride; and how worthless everything is after which men violently strain.” By encouraging us to avoid pride and to seek relationships, he is encouraging us to live well with those around us and to recognize the needs of our society. Striving to be great is not a negative thing on its own, but when it is combined with a desire to obtain great wealth and material possessions, or to impress to others, the goal of greatness becomes a trap that we cannot escape.
Aurelius would not have argued that we should never feel pride, but that we should redirect that pride away from selfish desires. By focusing on others and helping others we can develop a sense of pride that results from becoming a more connected and well rounded human being, and we can enjoy the self-confidence that flows with that pride. Ultimately however, we must make sure that we are not feeding that pride for our own self-interests and we must ensure that our pride is generated from actions that are benevolent toward all.
In stoic philosophy being able to control your emotions is a central focus since it allows you to make better decisions, interact in a more sociable manner with all people, and to see the world from better perspectives through a process of reflection and controlled decision making. Thinking about our thinking and thought process is how we begin to develop control over our emotions, and it allows us to shift our reactions and feelings to better handle situations. Throughout the collection of his writing in the book, Meditations, Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius provides us with examples of situations where greater awareness, reflection, and emotional temperance can help us become better people. When facing adversity Aurelius writes, “Remember too, an every occasion which leads thee to vexation to apply this principle; not that this is a misfortune, but that to bear it nobly is good fortune.” In writing this he shows how a shift in thinking and focus can help us move from feeling anxious or dejected to hopeful and proud. Learning to control our emotions and shift the way we feel can help us move forward and advance in situations where we would rather shrink and shy away.
Aurelius’ quote is very inspirational to me because it shows that we can choose how a negative situation will affect us. We can take a bad situation and always change our perspective to see ways in which we can move forward and take away something positive. I don’t think that Aurelius would encourage us to jump straight to this mindset in any tragedy, we are human and will still feel those emotions, but over time we can move from negative spaces following any tragedy and build better emotional feelings and thoughts.
I find that Marcus Aurelius’ quote above is the most impactful and useful when applied to the small negatives and social situations that we face every day. It is easy to allow small frustrations to build and become major stressors in your life. We all face challenges and annoyances every day which make us bristle despite their petty nature or their small impact on our lives. What we can learn from stoicism is that we have a choice in how we react to these daily annoyances, and we can childishly complain, or we can pause and decide to nobly bear the situation knowing that it does not truly impact our life. Shifting our focus in this way can allow us to be more magnanimous toward people around us, it can improve our health as we drop our blood pressure and avoid fits of rage, and it can also give us the opportunity to present the world with the best version of who we are.