Open Thinkering


Tag: Marcus Aurelius

Baltasar Gracián on patience

Know how to suffer fools. The wise have always been the least patient, for as knowledge increases, so does impatience. It’s difficult to satisfy someone who knows a great deal. The greatest rule in life, according to Epictetus, is to endure things, and he reduced half of wisdom to this. If every type of stupidity is to be tolerated, a great deal of patience will be needed. Sometimes we tolerate most from those on whom we must depend, which fact enables us to triumph over ourselves. From tolerance arises peace, the inestimable joy of the world. Those who find themselves unable to tolerate others should retreat into themselves – if they can actually tolerate themselves.

Baltasar Gracián, The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence, 159

I’ve often said that I “don’t suffer fools gladly”. And I don’t; I have zero patience for those that mess me about, are disingenuous, or otherwise exist more for entertainment than industry.

However, Gracián points that we all depend on other people and it’s necessary to tolerate them. Further, without developing patience, we may end up in a situation where we find it difficult to tolerate ourselves.

Marcus Aurelius writes in a similar, albeit tangential vein:

[L]ook at the characters of your own associates: even the most agreeable of then are difficult to put up with; and for the matter of that, it is difficult enough to put up with one’s own self. In all this murk and mire, then, in all this ceaseless flow of being and time, of changes imposed and changes endured, I can think of nothing that is worth prizing highly or pursuing seriously.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 5

I wouldn’t necessarily agree with his assertion that there’s “nothing worth prizing highly or pursuing seriously”, but I suppose that’s the logical conclusion of a lack of patience.

My conclusion? Patience is worth practising and cultivating.

This post is Day 55 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 

Marcus Aurelius on character

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.

This post is Day 54 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 

Lying in bed with Marcus Aurelius and Mahatma Gandhi, thinking about work

When our kids reach their eighteenth birthday and start their foray into adulthood, I’m going to give them some books which have helped me in my adult life, and which I think will help them.

One of those books is Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, a relatively slim book which contains the wisdom of someone who was not only a Roman Emperor, but a Stoic philosopher.

I’ve written both here and elsewhere about how much value I get from reading Meditations on repeat along with other books like Baltasar Gracián’s The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence and Montaigne’s Essays. There are certain books that have layers of depth and meaning that it’s only possible to get to via repeated readings.

The thing I particularly like about the Meditations is that it was originally intended as a journal, as a series of exhortations by Marcus Aurelius to encourage himself to be a better person. As such, it doesn’t have a hypothetical audience, it has an audience of one. We’re merely literary voyeurs benefitting from his insights.

There are 12 books in the Meditations, and some sections are more heavily highlighted in my dead-tree version than others. There’s one bit, though, that’s always kind of baffled me.

At day’s first light have in readiness, against disinclination to leave your bed, the thought that “I am rising for the work of man”. Must I grumble at setting out to do what I was born for, and for the sake of which I have been brought into the world? Is this the purpose of my creation, to lie here under the blankets and keep myself warm? “Ah, but it is a great deal more pleasant!” Was it for pleasure, then, that you were born, and not for work, not for effort? Look at the plants, the sparrows, ants, spiders, bees, all busy with their own tasks, each doing his part towards a coherent world order; and will you refuse man’s share of the work, instead of being prompt to carry out Nature’s bidding? “Yes, but one must have some repose as well.” Granted; but repose has its limits set by nature, in the same way as food and drink have; and you overstep these limits, you go beyond the point of sufficient; while on the other hand, when action is in question, you so sorry of what you could well achieve.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 5

Perhaps it’s because we live easier lives in 2020 than they did a couple of millennia ago, but this passage doesn’t really speak to me. But I feel like it should.

Others point to it as motivation and inspiration to avoid the lie-in and get on with the day. Reader, I have never had that problem, apart from when I’ve been mentally or physically ill.

To me, motivation for work springs not from religion, or fear, or desire for glory, but, as Gandhi famously suggested, from a striving for the kind of happiness that can be achieved when “what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony”.

That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. How about you?

This post is Day 52 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at

10 ways to make your working day more productive

A lot of what makes people ‘productive’ is common-sense. But sometimes this needs spelling out, hence this post. I’m always looking for ways to be more productive. Please let me and fellow readers/subscribers know your tips and strategies in the comments.

Here’s some of my tips!

1. Don’t read emails

If you make the first thing you do in a day reading emails, you’re starting off the day on other people’s terms. Instead, achieve something from your own agenda first, then catch up on what people want to tell you! :-p

2. Read something inspirational

It might be the Bible, it might be some Marcus Aurelius, but make sure you read something (however short) – for a quick fix, try!

3. Listen to podcasts

However you travel to work, podcasts are a great way to stop it being ‘dead time’. Audiobooks are also great (try Audible). Here’s the podcasts to which I subscribe:

4. Use an online to-do list

There’s lots of ways people will take money off you to ‘make you more productive’. I love Remember the Milk: it’s simple and free!

5. Share everything you do

If you share with other people, they’re a lot more likely to share with you. This, in turn, reduces your workload and increases your overall productivity. You can share things online through things like a wiki or a forum, or face-to-face.

6. Take pictures

I know very few people who haven’t got a camera built-in to their mobile phone. Instead of writing things out or trying to remember complex things, just snap it with your cameraphone! You could take this one step further if you’ve got an iPhone and use the wonderful Evernote for web-based synchronization. 🙂

7. Make everything you can, digital

The problem with paper is that unless you photocopy it a copy exists in only one location – and can’t search and organize it. If you’re a teacher, make your markbook and attendance registers digital. Plan things using Google Calendar. These things might take some time to set up, but will pay dividends in the long-term.

8. Take breaks

Know your limits. You’re far better of having a 10-15 minute break and coming back to something with fresh(er) eyes and increased motivation than slogging away at an activity non-stop.

9. Drink coffee

Coffee is a stimulant: it contains caffeine. Drinking too much coffee isn’t good for you and can generate withdrawal symptoms. However, drinking a couple of cups per day of good filter coffee increases alertness and attention. I tend to have one in the morning with breakfast and one when I come home from work. You could, in fact, combine coffee with taking a nap and have what Lifehacker calls a ‘coffee nap’ – more here.

10. Prepare well

A productive day actually begins the day before. Be prepared! Pack your bag, get lunch ready (if applicable), iron your clothes, go to bed at a reasonable hour. Done regularly, such a routine makes for large productivity gains. 😀

What are YOUR tips for improving productivity?

(image credit: happy birthday, baby mantis (hello, cruel world) @ Flickr)

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4 quotations that will guide me next academic year

I love a good quotation. What I mean by a good quotation is one that takes something you’ve been thinking about abstractly and would take you lots of words to express, and then says it in a very concise (often, pithy) way. I’ve a new role as of next academic year, starting in September. Alongside a 50% timetable, I’ll be E-Learning Staff Tutor. It’ll not be easy!

1. “It’s hard not to act like a caveman when you’re living in a cave.” (paraphrased from John O’Farrell‘s An Utterly Impartial History of Britain)

I’ve got to recognise that not everyone lives in the extremely connected world I and my peers inhabit. There’s staff at my school who don’t have broadband at home ‘because I don’t use the Internet that much’, have had the same mobile phone (if they own one at all) for about 8 years, and who only use an interactive whiteboard if and when they are observed. I think my first task will be to lure them out of the cave. It may be safe and offer shelter, but there’s no sabre-toothed tigers out there anymore… 😉

2. “If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.” (Chinese proverb)

I came across this marvellous proverb thanks to Dave Stacey in his helpful post Write Doug a job description! In terms of my role next year, focusing on the task at hand could prove rather difficult. I can see so much that needs to be done! So long as I know where I’d like the school to be in 3 years’ time, I can start thinking about the baby steps to get us there. And I’ve got the power of the network™ behind me! :-p

3. The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane. (Marcus Aurelius)

I’m going to have to accept the fact that I may not be the most popular person in the world next year. It’s a bit like when you become a teacher and initially you want all the students to like you. Then you realise that you’re not there to be liked – that’s just a bonus. You’re there to help them learn things. It’s going to be the same with my E-Learning Tutor role. So long as I ‘keep it real’ and don’t just try to please everybody, I’ll be OK. 🙂

4. “I care not so much what I am to others as what I am to myself.” (Michel De Montaigne)

At the end of the day, and as I have said many times before, I came into the teaching profession to change the experience of school for students. I know my principles and I know when I’m letting myself down. There’s a lot of jargon and extraneous stuff in the world of education that I haven’t got to get bogged down with. Whilst I need to move people on within the school, it hasn’t got to be at the expense of my core beliefs and values. 😀

What about you? What quotations guide and inspire you? What are you aiming for next academic year?

*If you haven’t read O’Farrell’s An Utterly Impartial History of Britain, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations or Montaigne’s Essays, I urge you to!

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