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Inspirational Quotations #705

Experience is the only prophecy of wise men.
Alphonse de Lamartine

Science is nothing but trained and organized common sense, differing from the latter only as a veteran may from a raw recruit, and its methods differ from those of common sense, only as the guardsman’s cut and thrust differ from the manner in which a savage wields his club.
Thomas Henry Huxley

I am searching for that which every man seeks—peace and rest.
Dante Alighieri

We are born to action; and whatever is capable of suggesting and guiding action has power over us from the first.
Charles Cooley

Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being.
Mohandas K. Gandhi

Waste no more time talking about great souls and how they should be. Become one yourself!
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus

When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.
William Shakespeare

The minute a man ceases to grow, no matter what his years, that minute he begins to be old.
William James

It isn’t for the moment you are struck that you need courage, but for the long uphill climb back to sanity and faith and security.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Consciousness is a phase of mental life which arises in connection with the formation of new habits. When habit is formed, consciousness only interferes to spoil our performance.
William Ralph Inge

The average man never really thinks from end to end of his life. The mental activity of such people is only a mouthing of cliches.
H. L. Mencken

No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting.
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

One mustn’t criticize other people on grounds where he can’t stand perpendicular himself.
Mark Twain

We may make mistakes—but they must never be mistakes which result from faintness of heart or abandonment of moral principles.
Franklin D. Roosevelt

Censure is often useful, praise often deceitful.
Winston Churchill

Hope is the feeling we have that the feeling we have is not permanent.
Mignon McLaughlin

Boredom is the deadliest poison.
William F. Buckley, Jr.

When a man tells you that he got rich through hard work, ask him whose?
Don Marquis

How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.
Benjamin Disraeli

Defeat is simply a signal to press onward.
Helen Keller

The money men make lives after them.
Samuel Butler

Heaven and Hell: A Zen Parable on Self-Awareness


Your Mind Renders the Outer Condition into Inner Pain and Suffering—or Joy and Happiness

The state of your mind plays a vital role in shaping your everyday experiences of joy and happiness, and your general physical and mental well-being.

If you can maintain a peaceful and tranquil state of mind, the external conditions can cause you only limited disturbance. However, if your mental state is tense, restless, and agitated, you’ll find it difficult to be at peace even in the best of circumstances—even if you’re surrounded by the best of your friends and family.

When you truly become aware of how much damage negative emotions can cause—for yourself and for others—you will not indulge them even a bit.

The following Zen ‘koan’ parable (see source in postscript) validates the potential dangers that can occur when you fall prey to your negative emotions.

When you become aware of how much damage negative emotions can cause, you will not indulge them even a bit.

Heaven and Hell: A Zen Parable

A tough, brawny samurai once approached a Zen master who was deep in meditation.

Impatient and discourteous, the samurai demanded in his husky voice so accustomed to forceful yelling, “Tell me the nature of heaven and hell.”

The Zen master opened his eyes, looked the samurai in the face, and replied with a certain scorn, “Why should I answer to a shabby, disgusting, despondent slob like you? A worm like you, do you think I should tell you anything? I can’t stand you. Get out of my sight. I have no time for silly questions.”

The samurai could not bear these insults. Consumed by rage, he drew his sword and raised it to sever the master’s head at once.

Looking straight into the samurai’s eyes, the Zen master tenderly declared, “That’s hell.”

The samurai froze. He immediately understood that anger had him in its grip. His mind had just created his own hell—one filled with resentment, hatred, self-defense, and fury. He realized that he was so deep in his torment that he was ready to kill somebody.

The samurai’s eyes filled with tears. Setting his sword aside, he put his palms together and obsequiously bowed in gratitude for this insight.

The Zen master gently acknowledged with a delicate smile, “And that’s heaven.”

Self-Awareness & Self-Regulation: The Bases of Emotional Intelligence

'Emotional Intelligence' by Daniel Goleman (ISBN 055380491X) Retelling this Zen parable in his influential bestseller, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, the Harvard psychologist Daniel Goleman comments, “The sudden awakening of the samurai to his own agitated state illustrates the crucial difference between being caught up in a feeling and becoming aware that you are being swept away by it. Socrates’s injunction ‘Know thyself’ speaks to the keystone of emotional intelligence: awareness of one’s own feelings as they occur.”

In Emotional Intelligence (1995) and in his legendary Harvard Business Review article What Makes a Leader (1998), Goleman further argues that self-awareness and self-regulation are essential elements of emotional intelligence. In What Makes a Leader, he writes, “Self-awareness means having a deep understanding of one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs and drives. … People who have a high degree of self-awareness recognize how their feelings hurt them, other people, and their job performance.”

With reference to self-regulation, “Biological impulses drive our emotions. We cannot do away with them—but we can do much to manage them. Self-regulation, which is like an ongoing inner conversation, is the component of emotional intelligence that frees us from being prisoners of own feelings. People [with high self-regulation] feel bad moods and emotional impulses just as everyone else does, but they find ways to control them and even to channel them in useful ways.”

The Stoic Philosophers Advocated an Equanimous Outlook to Life

Equanimity is an essential state of mind that you must maintain when interacting with people who rub you the wrong way or push your buttons.

Equanimity (apatheia in Greek and aequanimitas in Latin) was one of the ideals of Stoic philosophy, the third great philosophy of the Ancient World. The ex-slave and leading Stoic philosopher Epictetus teaches, “Man is troubled not by events, but by the meaning he gives them.”

Marcus Aurelius, who finally carried Stoic philosophy into the emperor’s seat, writes in Meditations, “When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.”

Equanimity is an Essential Buddhist Virtue

In Buddhism, equanimity (upekṣā in Sanskrit and upekkha in Pali) denotes a mind that is at peace notwithstanding stressful and unpleasant experiences. In The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, the Vietnamese-French Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh defines upekṣā as “equanimity, nonattachment, nondiscrimination, even-mindedness, or letting go. Upa means ‘over,’ and iksh means ‘to look.’ You climb the mountain to be able to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other.”

In Dhamma Reflections, the American Buddhist monk Bhikkhu Bodhi describes equanimity as “evenness of mind, unshakeable freedom of mind, a state of inner equipoise that cannot be upset by gain and loss, honor and dishonor, praise and blame, pleasure and pain. Upekkha is freedom from all points of self-reference; it is indifference only to the demands of the ego-self with its craving for pleasure and position, not to the well-being of one’s fellow human beings.”

'Comfortable With Uncertainty' by Pema Chodron (ISBN 1590306260) In Comfortable With Uncertainty, an excellent discourse on overcoming the many challenges that life presents us, the renowned Buddhist nun Pema Chodron discusses the above Zen parable and comments,

The view of the warrior-bodhisattva is not “Hell is bad and heaven is good” or “Get rid of hell and just seek heaven.” Instead, we encourage ourselves to developing an open heart and an open mind to heaven, to hell, to everything. Only with this kind of equanimity can we realize that no matter what comes along, we’re always standing in the middle of open space. Only with equanimity can we see that everything that comes into our circle has come to teach us what we need to know.

Equanimous Outlook to Life Through Mind Training

Transcending Turmoil through Mind Training

If life is what you make of it, you can shape your attitudes and behavior by possessing a calm and stable mind.

Centuries of eastern contemplative practices have posited that regular physical yoga exercises and mindfulness meditation can train your mind to regulate your emotional states and bring about positive effects on your physical health and psychological well-being. In the last two decades, thanks to the Dalai Lama’s collaboration with the scientific community through programs such as the Mind and Life Institute, a growing number of scholars in the biological and cognitive sciences are convinced that such contemplative practices are a substantially beneficial introspective laboratory into the effects of negative emotions on overall wellbeing.

Given that your mind is the cause of all emotional upheaval, you can attain an enlightened state of mind by transcending turmoil. Practice of yoga and meditation can help you develop a compassionate assessment of the feelings of pain and suffering, and pleasure and happiness that dominate your existence.

In several well-known books and lectures (such as the Habits of Happiness TED Talk,) the French biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk Matthieu Ricard has popularized the practice of mindfulness meditation as the key to mind training. In Motionless Journey, his awe-inspiring photographic journal of his retreat in the Himalayas, Ricard writes,

A [practitioner] begins by understanding that true happiness does not fundamentally depend on changing external conditions, but rather on changing his own mind and the way it translates the circumstances of existence into happiness or frustration. He sees that as long as he is still not rid of hatred, obsession, pride, jealousy and the other mental poisons, it is as hopeless to expect happiness as it would be to hold his hand in a fire and hope not to be burnt.

Postscript / Source: The Zen Koan “The Gates of Paradise”

Japanese-American Buddhist teacher Gyomay M. Kubose‘s Zen Koans (1973) includes a faithful translation of the parable from Shasekishū (trans. Sand and Pebbles,) an anthology of koans by the thirteenth century Japanese Zen monk Mujū DŌkyŌ:

Nobushige, a soldier, came to Hakuin, a famous Zen Master, and asked, “Is there really a paradise and a hell?”

“Who are you?” inquired Hakuin.

“I am a samurai,” Nobushige replied.

“You, a samurai!” exclaimed Hakuin. “What kind of lord would have you as his guard? You look like a beggar!”

Nobushige became so enraged that he began to draw his sword.

Hakuin continued, “So you have a sword. It is probably too dull to even cut off my head.”

Nobushige brandished his weapon.

Hakuin remarked, “Here, open the gates of hell.”

At these words the perceptive samurai sheathed his sword and bowed.

“Here, open the gates of paradise,” said Hakuin.

Everything Takes Longer Than Anticipated: Hofstadter’s Law [Mental Models]

Think of your weekend days. You typically wake up and think of all the free time at hand. You plan a day of leisure. You intend to run some errands and get a few things done around the house. Yet, at the end of the day, you’ve done barely half of what you originally set out to do.

People Habitually Underestimate the Time Tasks Take

Almost everything that humankind has ever wished for—from renewing a driver’s license to achieving peace between countries at war—seems to have not completed within the time originally planned.

As the following case studies will illustrate, interruptions, deferrals, and delays characteristically result in cost overruns, benefit shortfalls, and disputes.

  • Sydney’s Opera House was originally forecast in 1957 to be completed in 1963. The magnificent performing arts complex formally opened only in 1973 and cost 15 times the original budget.
  • Hofstadter's Law: Boeing 787 Dreamliner Delays and LossesWhen Boeing first launched its 787 Dreamliner aircraft in 2004, it ambitiously planned for first flight in September 2007. After six delays in the design and prototype phases, the 787 first flew only in December 2009. First aircraft delivery was scheduled for 2008, but didn’t happen until September 2011, more than three years behind schedule. Then, after a series of early in-service technical and operational problems, Boeing embarked on serious drawn-out repairs on 787s. Following yet more production delays, the 787 started flying full-fledged only in 2013. The innumerable delays and cost overruns associated with the 787 program became a financial nightmare for Boeing’s investors. Boeing took nine years to get the Dreamliner off the drawing board and into mature service at a total development cost of $32 billion—twice as long as the company’s original estimation and more than five times more expensive.
  • Less than 50 days before the start of last year’s Summer Olympic Games in Brazil, the state of Rio de Janeiro declared a “state of public calamity” citing severe delays and acute cost overruns. The New York Times reported, “The city is a huge construction site. Bricks and pipes are piled everywhere; a few workers lazily push wheelbarrows as if the Games were scheduled for 2017.”

Hofstadter’s Law: We Chronically Underestimate the Time Things Take

Hofstadter's Law: We Chronically Underestimate the Time Things TakeThe American cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter conceived an ironic and recursive rule to characterize the observation that everything takes longer than planned.

Hofstadter’s Law states, “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s law”

Hofstadter first discussed this law in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, a book popular among American computer programmers.

Underestimating Task-Time Means Constantly Rushing to Finish Things

According to planning fallacy, when people predict the time it takes to complete a task, they make their estimations by considering the various steps they have to take, but fail to imagine the pessimistic conditions where things could go wrong.

Project Delays: Hofstadter's Law, Planning Fallacy and Optimism BiasIn other words, thanks to optimism bias, people are generally too optimistic about the time it takes for them to complete a task, even when they are explicitly asked to think about potential obstacles.

Hofstadter’s Law also alludes to,

  • Superiority Bias where people overrate their own positive qualities and abilities—and underrate their negative qualities—when compared with others. “This takes three hours for the average Joe, but I am smarter, and I can do it in two hours.”
  • Beneffectance Bias where people perceive themselves as selectively accountable for the desired—but not the undesired—outcomes. “Last week, this took me 45 minutes, but the delay was because of conditions beyond my control. Today, I have full control; so I should take just 20 minutes.”

Idea for Impact: The problem with unforeseen delays is that you can’t foresee them, no matter how comprehensively you plan

Though somewhat silly in its recursive character, Hofstadter’s Law observes that, irrespective of how carefully you plan, every project will be prone to something unanticipated that will hinder its timely completion. The law’s recursiveness affirms that, even if you know a project may overrun and build that expectation into your planning, the project will overrun even your new estimated finish time.

Lessons on Adversity from Charlie Munger: Be a Survivor, Not a Victim

Lessons on Adversity from Charlie Munger: Be a Survivor, Not a Victim

Munger: One of the Most Respected Business Thinkers in History

Berkshire Hathaway’s Vice-Chairman Charlie Munger (b. 1924) is a distinguished beacon of rationality, wisdom, and multi-disciplinary thinking. As Warren Buffett’s indispensable right-hand man, Munger has been a prominent behind-the-scenes intellectual who has created billions of shareholder wealth.

'Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger' by Peter Bevelin (ISBN 1578644283) The story of Charlie Munger’s life is an archetypal American Dream: a hardworking, principled young man overcomes life’s trials and tribulations, and builds a billion-dollar fortune through industry, diligence, candor, and an obsession with self-improvement. Munger is also a prominent philanthropist. He preferred to donate his money now rather than give it as a bequest with the intention of appreciating the results of his giving. After donating $110 million to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Munger said, “I’m soon going to be departed from all of my money, why not give more of it away while I get the fun of giving it?”

“Horrible Blows, Unfair Blows” on the Road to Success

Munger’s sharp mind, irreverent, outspoken outlook, and commonsense-thinking are legendary. For fans who flock to Omaha to witness him and Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting, the 92-year old Munger remains a cult figure.

At age 17, Munger attended the University of Michigan but dropped out to enlist in the military during World War II. After the war, he entered Harvard Law School without an undergraduate degree and graduated in 1948 with a J.D. magna cum laude. He started practicing law in Los Angeles, but gave up his practice at the urging of Warren Buffett to concentrate on managing investments and developing real estate. He never took a course in business, economics, or finance but became a billionaire. He ascribes most of his “worldly wisdom” to his zeal for self-improvement (identical to his idol Benjamin Franklin) and plenteous reading. He once said, “In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time—none, zero. … My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.”

Even if Munger remains an inspiration for a life well lived, his life has not been entirely perfect. Consider some of the struggles he coped with on his pathway to success.

  • 'Damn Right - Charlie Munger' by Janet Lowe (ISBN 0471446912) At age 29, in 1954, Munger got divorced from his wife after eight years of marriage. Munger lost everything to his wife including his home in South Pasadena. According to Janet Lowe’s insightful biography Damn Right, Munger moved into “dreadful bachelor digs” at Pasadena’s University Club and drove an “awful” yellow Pontiac with a shoddy repaint job. That car made him “look as if he had not two pennies to say hello to each other.” When daughter Molly Munger probed, “Daddy, this car is just awful, a mess. Why do you drive it?” The impoverished Munger replied, “To discourage gold diggers.”
  • The financial pressure came at a testing time. A short time after the divorce, Munger’s 9-year old son Teddy was diagnosed with leukemia. At that time, cancer survival rates were insignificant and Munger had to pay for everything out-of-pocket because there was no health insurance. According to his friend Rick Guerin, Munger would visit the hospital when his son “was in bed and slowly dying, hold him for a while, then go out walking the streets of Pasadena crying.” Teddy died a year later in 1955.
  • Many years later, Munger had a horrific cataract surgery in his left eye that rendered him blind with pain so severe that he eventually had that eye removed. Recently, when doctors notified Munger that he had developed a condition that was causing his remaining eye to fill up with blood, he stood the risk of losing his vision in his other eye too. Being the obsessive reader that he is, the prospect of losing eyesight entirely made Munger comment, “Losing the ability to see would seem to be a prison sentence.” Undeterred, Munger was ready to brace himself for what life had to offer. He told a friend, “It’s time for me to learn braille” and started taking lessons. As luck would have it, the worrisome eye condition has since receded.

Charlie Munger on Confronting Adversity and Building Resilience

  • Adversity, hardship, and misfortune can cause people to conceive themselves as a victim of circumstances. Munger once remarked, “Whenever you think that some situation or some person is ruining your life, it’s actually you who are ruining your life. It’s such a simple idea. Feeling like a victim is a perfectly disastrous way to go through life. If you just take the attitude that however bad it is in anyway, it’s always your fault and you just fix it as best you can … I think that really works.”
  • People who choose to react as victims surrender themselves to feelings of being betrayed or taken advantage of. The resulting anger, repulsion, fear, guilt, and inadequacy are futile. Munger once said, “Generally speaking, envy, resentment, revenge, and self-pity are disastrous modes of thought; self-pity gets pretty close to paranoia, and paranoia is one of the very hardest things to reverse; you do not want to drift into self-pity.”
  • Feeling victimized and the ensuing negative thinking patterns are hard to break, but the recovery process encompasses disremembering and forgiving the past, regulating the flawed perspective of the routine ups and downs of life, and taking control and gaining power. In his 2007 commencement speech at University of Southern California’s Law School, Munger said, “Life will have terrible blows in it … horrible blows, unfair blows. And some people recover and others don’t. And there I think the attitude of Epictetus is the best. He said that every missed chance in life was an opportunity to behave well, every missed chance in life was an opportunity to learn something, and that your duty was not to be submerged in self-pity, but to utilize the terrible blow in constructive fashion. That is a very good idea.”
  • In a 2011 interview, CNN journalist Poppy Harlow asked if Munger felt betrayed by David Sokol, Buffett’s then heir-apparent who violated company standards during Berkshire Hathaway’s purchase of Lubrizol and was let go. Munger conceded that Sokol’s conduct left him sad, but not let down. “It’s not my nature … when you get little surprises as a result of human nature … to spend much time feeling betrayed. I always want to put my head down and adjust. I don’t allow myself to spend much time ever with any feelings of betrayal. If some flickering idea like that came to me, I’d get rid of it quickly. I don’t like any feeling of being victimized. I think that’s a counterproductive way to think as a human being. I am not a victim. I am a survivor.”

Playing a Victim is by No Means Beneficial or Adaptive

'Poor Charlie's Almanack' by Charlie Munger (ISBN 1578645018) Even in the face of some of the worst misfortunes that could strike you, suffering the resentments and attempting to endure pain are far superior choices than getting absorbed in feeling victimized and powerless.

Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl described how his fellow captives in Nazi concentration camps survived by enduring their sufferings and refusing to give in to feeling victimized. Even when stripped of all their rights and possessions, they exercised their enduring freedom to choose their attitudes and harnessed this freedom to sustain their spirits.

In his inspiring Man’s Search for Meaning (which is one of Munger’s many recommended books,) Frankl wrote, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. … Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Lessons on Adversity from Charlie Munger

Idea for Impact: Come what may, you’re not a victim. It is up to you to determine your response.

  • Don’t operate life on the assumption that the world ought to be fair, just, and objective. You are neither entitled nor unentitled to good treatment.
  • Recognize that you cannot control, influence, or affect in any way the inequities, injustices, discriminations, and biases that populate the world. You have power over only your life and the choice of your attitudes.
  • Never feel sorry for yourself or engage in self-pity. Don’t dwell on a “poor-me stance” and consider yourself unfortunate. Don’t become loath to taking responsibility for your actions and the consequences. Stop playing the victim by recognizing and challenging those negative voices in your head. As the Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations, “Put from you the belief that ‘I have been wronged’, and with it will go the feeling. Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.”
  • When life knocks you over, allow yourself a modest amount of grieving. Then, gather yourself back together, get up, dust yourself down, renegotiate your hopes and dreams, align yourself with reality, put yourself back in the saddle, and get on with life. The ability to rebound quickly from failures and disappointments is one of the key differentiators between successful and unsuccessful people.
  • What’s important in life is not what happens to you but how you react to what happens.

The More You Believe in Yourself, the Less You Need Others to Do It for You

If you’re like most people including me, you struggle with criticism. You find criticism harsh and unhelpful because criticism strikes at the very conflict between two deep-seated human desires—the desire to be accepted just the way you are and the desire to learn and grow. Consequently, even a nonthreatening comment can leave you feeling uneasy, irritated, angry, and vulnerable.

The More You Believe in Yourself, the Less You Need Others to Do It for You Your sensitivity for disapproval is often justified. Your detractors aren’t perhaps thinking straight. When they pass judgments about you, their critical pronouncements often reveal a great deal about themselves and little about you. Psychologists contend that critics, in offering their disapprovals, are subconsciously projecting their own insecurities, pessimism, and fears onto you.

Most people are driven by emotions and not hard evidence. They tend to impulsively estimate your merits, instead of evaluating you thoughtfully. Therefore, when you confront those inevitable disapprovals, disappointments, and setbacks, don’t pity yourself and feel sorry for the conditions you face in life. Don’t get hung up on waiting for others to give you positive strokes. Give yourself gratitude for your efforts, and choose to get back up, dust yourself off, and move on.

'The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus' by A.S.L. Farquharson (ISBN 0192827901) Life isn’t easy for anyone. But it could be made easier by valuing yourself when you confront adversity, hardships, and disapprovals. As the Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote about the art of forbearance in Meditations (trans. A.S.L. Farquharson,)

Remind yourself of the kinds of things you have passed through and the kinds you have had strength to endure; that the story of life is written and your service accomplished. How many beautiful things have been revealed, how many pleasures and pains you have looked down upon, how many ambitions ignored, to how many unkind persons you have been kind!

Coaching, feedback, advice, criticisms, and comments are great tools that can help you learn and grow, but only when they come from the right people—benevolent people who are knowledgeable, understanding, supportive, and, most importantly, have your best interests at heart. When they come from others, the best response is to listen, mull them over objectivity (Was the criticism offered in good faith? Was the criticism true?), and disregard them if they don’t seem justified.

Idea for Impact: When people try to tell you who you are, consider them with a grain of salt. You are the sole curator, guardian, and defender of your integrity and your sense of self-worth. So, don’t sweat when others think less than you actually are. Care less for what other people think. Believe in yourself.

Care Less for What Other People Think

Care Less for What Other People Think - Quote by Theodore Roosevelt

The American sociologist Charles H. Cooley once described the irrational and unproductive obsession with what others think; he said, “I am not what I think I am and I am not what you think I am; I am what I think that you think I am.”

Some people care excessively about what others think. They place undue importance on external validation, so much so that they sometimes place more emphasis on the commendation or disapproval they receive than on their actual actions.

The great Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations (trans. Gregory Hays,)

It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own. If a god appeared to us—or a wise human being, even—and prohibited us from concealing our thoughts or imagining anything without immediately shouting it out, we wouldn’t make it through a single day. That’s how much we value other people’s opinions—instead of our own.

'Self-Reliance' by Ralph Waldo Emerson (ISBN 1604500093) In Self-Reliance, American philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson encouraged people to shun conformity and false consistency, and instead follow their own instincts and ideas:

Live no longer to the expectation of these deceived and deceiving people with whom we converse. Say to them, O father, O mother, O wife, O brother, O friend, I have lived with you after appearances hitherto. Henceforward I am the truth’s. Be it known unto you that henceforward I obey no law less than the eternal law. I will have no covenants but proximities. I shall endeavor to nourish my parents, to support my family, to be chaste husband of one wife,—but these relations I must fill after a new and unprecedented way. I appeal from your customs. I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever only rejoices me, and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men’s, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and, if we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last.

Don’t become dependent on what others think of you

'What Do You Care What Other People Think' by Richard P. Feynman (ISBN 0393320928) Feedback, advice, criticisms, and comments are great tools that can help you learn and grow, but only when they come from the right people—people who are knowledgeable, understanding, supportive, and have your best interests at heart. When they come from others, the best response is to listen, mull them over objectivity, and disregard them if they don’t seem right.

Idea for Impact: Don’t do things differently just because somebody asked you to or just because you want to be different for somebody. Do things differently because it makes sense to you. (Read my articles on discipline and motivation.)

Choose Not to Be Offended, and You Will Not Be: What the Stoics Taught

Choose Not to Be Offended, and You Will Not Be: What the Stoics Taught

When somebody offends you or causes you distress, think of the anxiety as their problem, not yours.

The Stoic philosophers taught that if you choose not to be offended by others’ actions, you will not be. An offense is up to your interpretation. Instead, treat others with kindness and assert your autonomy.

This moral is exemplified in the following clip from the movie Gandhi (1983) portraying racial discrimination in South Africa and Gandhi’s espousal of Christian values. A young Gandhi and his friend Charles Freer Andrews are walking in a Johannesburg suburb when they’re accosted by menacing louts who yell “Look what’s comin’!” and “A white shepherd leading a brown Sammy!” (Sammy—for swami—was a South African derogatory term for an Indian.) Despite Andrews’s misgivings, Gandhi strides along rather nervously and invokes the Christian principle of turning the other cheek. When one lout’s intentions of “cleaning up the neighborhood a little” are disrupted by his mother, Gandhi responds, “You’ll find there’s room for us all!”

Mastering an Offensive Situation Is Ultimately a Matter of Mastering Yourself

'Meditations: A New Translation' by Marcus Aurelius (ISBN 0812968255) In Meditations, the great Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote about taking responsibility for the things within your control:

Someone despises me. That’s their problem. Mine: not to do or say anything despicable. Someone hates me. Their problem. Mine: to be patient and cheerful with everyone, including them. Ready to show them their mistake. Not spitefully, or to show off my own self-control, but in an honest, upright way.

Marcus Aurelius counsels compassion for those who offend you:

When people injure you, ask yourself what good or harm they thought would come of it. If you understand that, you’ll feel sympathy rather than outrage or anger. Your sense of good and evil may be the same as theirs, or near it, in which case you have to excuse them. Or your sense of good and evil may differ from theirs. In which case they’re misguided and deserve your compassion. Is that so hard?

Strength dissipates when you choose to be offended, and harbor malice. Marcus Aurelius counsels acting compassionately towards those who offend you:

That kindness is invincible, provided it’s sincere—not ironic or an act. What can even the most vicious person do if you keep treating him with kindness and gently set him straight—if you get the chance—correcting him cheerfully at the exact moment that he’s trying to do you harm. “No, no, my friend. That isn’t what we’re here for. It isn’t me who’s harmed by that. It’s you.” And show him, gently and without pointing fingers, that it’s so. That bees don’t behave like this— or any other animals with a sense of community. Don’t do it sardonically or meanly, but affectionately—with no hatred in your heart. And not ex cathedra or to impress third parties, but speaking directly. Even if there are other people around.

Another Stoic Philosopher, Epictetus, who advocated integrity, self-management, and personal freedom, wrote in Discourses (transcribed and published by his pupil Arrian):

For there are two rules we should always have at hand: That nothing is good or evil, but choice, and, That we are not to lead events, but to follow them. “My brother ought not to have treated me so”. Very true, but it is for him to see to that. However he treats me, I am to act rightly with regard to him. For this is my concern, the other is somebody else’s; this no one can hinder, the other is open to hindrance.

Idea for Impact: To Be Offended Is a Choice You Make

Don't Take Things Personally: To Be Offended Is a Choice You Make When somebody insults, mistreats, snubs, or disrespects you, choose not to be upset. To be offended is an issue of the self—it’s a choice you intentionally make. Taking offense is about what you want them to be. It is about your desire to change their perspective and behavior.

Try to isolate offense by choosing to respond differently: by overlooking others’ wrongdoings with compassion and reminding yourself that you cannot change others, just your own self.

The Hebrew Bible (or the Old Testament) instructs, “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11.) To be offended is a choice you make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon you by someone or something else.

Choose not to let others dictate your emotions—purposely or otherwise. Live life with the wisdom that nobody can make you do anything and that you alone can control how you react to your surroundings and circumstances. Choose to be more at peace.

Life Is to You as to Everyone Else: What the Stoics Taught

Mosaic of Alexander the Great, who Sucked at Geometry

Life is as hard for one as for another

Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca’s Moral Letters to Lucilius (Latin orig. Epistulae morales ad Lucilium) tells a story of Alexander the Great’s schooling.

Even at a young age, the hugely ambitious Alexander dreamt of conquering empires. He had no patience for formal learning. When faced with the difficulty of understanding geometry, he whined to his tutor, “Teach me something easy.” His tutor replied, “These things are the same for all, as hard for one as for another.”

'Letters from a Stoic' by Lucius Annaeus Seneca (ISBN 0140442103) Alexander, king of Macedon, began to study geometry; unhappy man, because he would thereby learn how puny was that earth of which he had seized but a fraction!

Unhappy man, I repeat, because he was bound to understand that he was bearing a false title. For who can be “great” in that which is puny?

The lessons which were being taught him were intricate and could be learned only by assiduous application; they were not the kind to be comprehended by a madman, who let his thoughts range beyond the ocean.

“Teach me something easy!” he cries; but his teacher answers: “These things are the same for all, as hard for one as for another.”

Imagine that nature is saying to us: “Those things of which you complain are the same for all. I cannot give anything easier to any man, but whoever wishes will make things easier for himself.” In what way? By equanimity.

You must suffer pain, and thirst, and hunger, and old age too, if a longer stay among men shall be granted you; you must be sick, and you must suffer loss and death.

On a related note, the great Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations (trans. Gregory Hays,) “Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both. They were absorbed alike into the life force of the world, or dissolved alike into atoms.”

Idea for Impact: Put your problems and worries in perspective

Life Is to You as to Everyone Else Beyond the randomness (or providence for those of you with a religious bent) of where we’re born and whom we’re born to, life is generally fair to all and cannot be easier for anyone. The trials and tribulations of life are equally difficult for everyone. Complaining about others having it easier is futile.

Learn to play the hand you’ve been dealt. If you’re fraught with pain and suffering now, don’t ask, “Why is my life so difficult? Why can’t it be easier?” Take solace in the realization that even the greatest and the mightiest had their share of life’s struggles. Make it easier by viewing life with calmness, composure, and evenness of temper.

Inspirational Quotations #619

Do you know what a man is? Are not birth, beauty, good shape, discourse, manhood, learning, gentleness, virtue, youth, liberality, and such like, the spice and salt that season a man?
William Shakespeare

Lost, yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward is offered, for they are gone forever.
Horace Mann

Decisiveness is a characteristic of high-performing men and women. Almost any decision is better than no decision at all.
Brian Tracy

Despise not death, but welcome it, for nature wills it like all else.
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus

I saw that we’re all doing the best we can. This is how a lifetime of humility begins.
Byron Katie

Men are happy to be laughed at for their humor, but not for their folly.
Jonathan Swift

The more you are motivated by love, the more fearless and free your actions will be.
Katherine Mansfield

Riches do not delight us so much with their possession, as torment us with their loss.
Dick Gregory

Habits are soon assumed; but when we endeavor to strip them off, it is being flayed alive.
William Cowper

Success consists of getting up just one more time than you fall.
Oliver Goldsmith

When you pray for anyone you tend to modify your personal attitude toward him.
Norman Vincent Peale

People do not deserve to have good writings; they are so pleased with the bad.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

A Prayer to Help You Deal with Annoying People: What the Stoics Taught

How to Deal with Annoying People

The 18th Century French writer Nicolas Chamfort once urged, “A man must swallow a toad every morning if he wishes to be sure of finding nothing still more disgusting before the day is over.”

'Meditations: A New Translation' by Marcus Aurelius (ISBN 0812968255) If you’re not looking forward to annoying people who seem to elevate provocation to an art form, consider the following prayer offered by the great Stoic Philosopher-Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121 CE–180 CE) in Meditations (trans. Gregory Hays.)

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own—not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me with ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.

Along those lines, the Buddha taught his followers to transcend ignorance through knowledge by observing four practices of inner conduct: loving kindness, altruistic compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity with regard to the impure and the evil. And in the New Testament,

  • Luke 23:34 suggests, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
  • Peter 2:23 offers the example of Jesus, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to Him who judges justly.”
  • Romans 12:17–21 recommend, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Considered Response, Not Naiveté

Aurelius’s urging tolerance, understanding, and patience towards difficult people may sound like naiveté at first glance, but what he urges is a wise and measured response.

Aurelius (121–180 CE) was one of the great Stoic philosophers. Stoic philosophy was founded by Zeno of Citium in the 3rd century BCE. Its core themes of inner solitude, forbearance in adversity, and acceptance of fate gained far-flung following and made it the dominant philosophy across the ancient Greek and Roman worlds.

One of Stoic philosophy’s central beliefs is that destructive emotions result from our errors in judgment. The Stoics argue that many things aren’t within our control, as I elaborated in previous articles (here and here.) The best way to deal with situations we have little control over is to anticipate and neutralize any negative feelings.

Stoic Forbearance through Emotional Detachment

The Stoics argued that our lives will be dramatically different if we realize that we can neither avoid annoying people nor change them. We must accept this reality and work on how we respond and interact with them. In On Tranquility of Mind, the other great Stoic philosopher Seneca (65 BCE–4 CE) wrote:

By looking forward to whatever can happen as though it would happen, he will soften the attacks of all ills, which bring nothing strange to those who have been prepared beforehand and are expecting them; it is the unconcerned and those that expect nothing but good fortune upon whom they fall heavily. Sickness comes, captivity, disaster, conflagration, but none of them is unexpected—I always knew in what disorderly company Nature had confined me.

How to Handle Difficult People

The Stoics encouraged a meditative practice of negative visualization called premeditatio malorum (premeditation of evils.) As suggested by Aurelius in his prayer, premeditatio malorum consists of contemplating the potential challenges of the day ahead, thinking about which of the four cardinal virtues (courage, equanimity, self-control and wisdom) we may have to engage and how. By rehearsing not to resign ourselves to adversities, we’re prepared for a more considered response—we could forgive, forget, appreciate and empathize.

As part of the premeditatio malorum practice, we’re to contemplate a priori potential difficulties, setbacks, and misfortunes. While envisaging all the difficulties and evils we could foresee seems like an unwholesome—perhaps even a morbid—exercise, the Stoics argue that this practice can help us react to bad news with equanimity and hence minimize the impact of bad news on our self-worth or confidence. If and when a bad thing should actually happen, our initial response would be to think that “this wasn’t totally unexpected.” While we’d rather it hadn’t happened, we would nevertheless not be surprised by it because this potential outcome was expected all along.

Idea for Impact: Cultivate Equanimity and Manage Yourself First

To handle a difficult person, prepare yourself by thinking of all the things that could go wrong. Don’t focus on how he behaves, but focus on how you can react to him. By ignoring his irritating behaviors, you can neutralize his effect on you. In other words, if someone is being difficult but you don’t feel the difficulty he’s imposed upon you, you don’t have a problem.

The cognitive reframing suggested by the Stoics can be particularly effective in situations where you have little to no control. It’s far more productive to focus on your own behavior because you can control it. And by managing yourself first, you’ll come to appreciate that the annoying person isn’t as annoying anymore. As the other Stoic philosopher Epictetus reminds us, “Man is shaped not by events but the meaning he gives them.”