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 100daystooffload.com
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 100daystooffload.com
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 100daystooffload.com