Cultivate these, then, for they are wholly within your power: sincerity, for example, and dignity; industriousness, and sobriety. Avoid grumbling, be frugal, considerate, and frank; be temperate in manner and in speech; carry yourself with authority.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 5
There’s so much to unpack in just this small section from one of Marcus Aurelius pieces of life advice. Taken at face value, it could be seen as an exhortation to an austere way of life; joyless, serious, and overly-focused on work.
Taken in context with his other writing, though, it’s clear that this is Marcus Aurelius’ reminder to himself to act in a way that would befit a Roman emperor. After all, when you have supreme executive authority, you can pretty much do what you like.
Many mornings, I get up before anyone else and sit by myself with a cup of tea studying something from my daily reading. Doing so helps start the day off on the right foot, with priorities that are important to me rather than other people. I find Marcus Aurelius particularly useful in that regard.
In 2008 I removed myself from Facebook. It’s only this month that I’ve re-activated my account. I’m connected to over 4,000 people on Twitter, but only 7 on Facebook; I ignore connection requests on the latter. For me, Twitter is a forwards-focused social network, whereas Facebook is backwards-leaning.
In fact, the difference between the two was put even more pithily than that (on Twitter, of course) as:
Facebook is for people the people you went to school with; Twitter is for the people you wish you went to school with.
In 2009 I returned back to the North-East with my nascent family after a 6-year self-imposed exile in Doncaster. Like many ex-pats (especially Scots for some reason?) whilst I was living down there I remembered the place I grew up through some kind of mental rose-tinted glasses. The dissonance hit me hard when I came back – as I explained last year in You’re doing it wrong.
Upon my return I saw the area for what it is: broken. The story of my teenage years isn’t a particularly uncommon one: able boy gets bored at school, doesn’t achieve his grade potential, yada yada yada… It was only when I began to study Philosophy at university that I learned that it was OK to be interested in the way the world worked, alright to have an opinion based on values and beliefs, and fine to be seen reading books.
Regret is a wasted emotion, but I feel something close to that having been brought up in the area I was. It’s an uneven playing field, for sure. I feel this emotion especially for those who haven’t managed to escape an area and a mindset that is, to put it quite bluntly, a cycle of despair now several generations deep.
The biggest thing I had to unlearn from my teenage years? A (disguised) lack of self-worth that so often manifests itself in the arrogant, and sometimes aggressive, behaviour of young men. Any time you see someone ceaselessly bigging themselves up it’s likely that this is the underlying problem. Some people attempt (and succeed) in escaping this through religion, some through work, some through sport and some through transformative relationships. I suppose that, whilst it’s an ongoing journey, I’ve achieved some of that self-worth through all of these at some point. Others, it’s sad to say, haven’t.
The above is one of the reasons I’m joining with others to form Purpos/ed. Whilst I’ll do everything I can to make my children confident and full of self-worth, they will spend a significant part of their formative years in a formal educational environment that could be as damaging to their character as my schooling (almost) was to mine.
Given that I want to continue to blog every day, I need some structure to keep going. I’ve already instituted the Things I learned this week series which will appear every Sunday on this blog. I enjoyed Balthasar Gracián’s The Art of Worldly Wisdom so much in 2009 that I’m going to couple some highlights with CC-licensed images from Flickr every Wednesday.
You can purchase an inexpensive copy of the book from Amazon or read it online for free via Google Books. 🙂