A man’s character is what defines him and what carries him through life. It is character that drives your choices and helps you deal with difficulties. The Stoics believed that virtue was the end-goal of anyone’s conduct and one of the few things that you truly had control over in this world.
A man can rise or fall just due to the virtues or faults of his character and it is often this that leaves a legacy. Marcus Aurelius is one of these men, who even after almost two thousand years is remembered for the strengths of his character and shown as a role model for conduct in times of difficulties.
Cassius Dio, Roman Senator and historian, who lived through the times of Marcus Aurelius, as well as those of his son, Commodus, had this to say about Marcus:
“He didn’t have the luck which he deserved, but was confronted throughout his reign by a multitude of disasters. That is why I admire him more than any other, for it was amidst these extraordinary and unparalleled difficulties that he was able to survive, and to save the Empire.”
Marcus Aurelius was not perfect, and he himself acknowledged it, but instead of falling prey to temptations, he struggled every day to reach perfection and lead the life of a philosopher. With the word “philosopher” we don’t mean someone who delivers hard to understand discourses on the meaning of life, but instead a man who tries to overcome his faults and live life according to reason, always striving to improve himself.
In order to do that, he kept a personal journal, where he noted down his thoughts and daily lessons. This journal was meant to be private, but did not remain so, and instead has been passed down to us as the “Meditations”. It is full of wisdom, which can be applied to your own life.
What types of things can you learn from the way Marcus conducted himself in daily life and which traits should you adopt? The first Book of the “Meditations” describes well the things that he learned from others.
Marcus Aurelius, just like anyone, was a man who learned from others. It was the people around him who shaped him.
You too were most likely shaped by those closest to you. I was lucky to have a good family, and wrote an article on what I learned from my grandfathers.
This is the first thing that you can take away: be thankful for what you have.
“To the gods I am indebted for having good grandfathers, good parents, a good sister, good teachers, good associates, good kinsmen and friends, nearly everything good.”
Marcus was always thanking his good fortunes. Many people are not so lucky, but even in the worst of times, they can find things to be thankful for.
More than 250 years after the times of Marcus Aurelius, when the Roman Empire in the West had fallen, Boethius, one of the last true Romans of Antiquity, was sitting in jail having an imaginary discussion with himself. He was condemned to die, but realized that even in such a dire situation, he can find positive things. One of these was that his family was OK.
Once you adopt this wider perspective on your situation, going about adopting other positive traits will be made much easier.
So which were the traits that Marcus Aurelius adopted?
Good morals and not raising your temper:
“From my grandfather Verus I learned good morals and the government of my temper.”