What a great challenge!
Each time I read Marcus Aurelius’ book Meditations, I end up underlining a new quote. After a few years, I began to realize that I’ve underlined the whole book. And That’s why when confronted with the idea of choosing only 10 quotes I felt challenged.
But here they are.
1. On The Reality Of Our World
“Our life is what our thoughts make it.”
If we remember that the way we feel about something is not determined by the thing itself, but by our perspective of it, eventually we’ll begin to notice that the world has dual nature.
2. On Neutrality of Perception
Aurelius believed that approaching events with neutrality allows us to have leverage and control over them. Thus, controlling their effect on how we may feel. Below is a quote that addresses this statement:
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
3. On Fate:
Stoics believed that people are given exactly what they can handle. It is the natural law of justice that keeps the world balanced and guarantees life happens as it should.
“Nothing happens to anybody which he is not fitted by nature to bear.”
There is “no I can’t take it”, “no it’s too much for me”, nor is there a “I’m never going to survive this”. Aurelius believed that nature, or the creator (A.K.A. God), has equipped you with all the strength you need to face the challenges that would be placed on your life.
4. On Forgiveness and moral superiority:
“The best revenge is to not be like your enemy.”
When you choose to act righteously regardless of the injustice posed upon you, and when you choose the higher moral ground, you end up forcing your enemy to question their own morality, which is a difficult journey.
If someone offers you a gift (or an aggression) and you don’t accept it, the person will have to take that back with them.
5. On valuing our own opinions:
This quote unveils how much impact society has on what we do. But most importantly why we should be aware of the irony that we all face. The power of anyone over us can only be handed over if we allow it.
I like to think of Epictetus, a slave who kept a free mind. And of Nelson Mandela, who reminded himself for 25 years that he was the captain of his own soul, all while his body was in prison.
“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people but care more about their opinion than our own.”
6. Value the opinion that matters:
Marcus Aurelius makes an intense remark about what he values:
“Rather disapproval by a genius than praise by an idiot.”
Here he’s trying to make an interesting point. Which is, if you are to value someone else’s opinion of you, then it better be said by a valuable person. At his time, being applauded by the mob was flattering, but he never let that get to his head.
7. On collectivism:
“Humans have come into being for the sake of each other, so either teach them, or learn to bear them.”
It’s simple, we’re made for one another, we’re made to serve. We’re responsible for the development of the ones who fall behind us in this race. As the ones ahead of us are responsible for us.
If we want to live in a better society we have to help educate our peers, we have to take this challenge into our own hands diligently.
8. On the worth of the individual:
“A man’s worth is no greater than the worth of his ambitions.”
Epictetus would say that we are slaves to our ambitions. If you aim for fame, you will be trapped by fame. And if you aim for money it will control your life. But if you aim for things that depend on no one but you, such as the virtues of your character, then you will be free.
This thought would also accompany another great man, Victor Hugo. As he used to say that from time to time we have to place money in front of us just to remember who owns who.
9. On how to act wisely he said:
“If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.”
Marcus Aurelius gives varying examples of practices that help us develop into beings capable of good, and capable of making this world a better place.
This quote dare I say, explains the easiest teachings of all, but also the one we fail at most often.
10. On how to build a great character:
“Perfection of character is this: to live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretense.”
Enjoying life, accepting fate, doing good and looking back with no regrets and no need for amendments. This is what a stoic should do in order to live a good life. Because that’s the only thing that guarantees a good death.
All in all, this book holds so much wisdom. And this is why I decided to add in my favorite quote to finish off:
“Experience is a trophy made up of all the weapons that hurt us.”
Value your scars and be proud of their teachings.