Sic Semper Tywattis
Oh look, another non-COVID related post! These things do happen, you know. The disease is still with us, infection rates are still sky high, but we are two years into this thing and I suspect many of you are tired of hearing me pontificate about the bloody virus.
Related to my media commentary, though, was this tweet that one of my automated web search bots revealed to me:
Apparently, advocating for rational public measures to save lives and preserve our health care system is “tyranny” –despite the fact that some of my colleagues have in the past described me as a “free choice and free speech evangelist.” In fact, at times I have literally chosen unemployment over attempts by employers to constrain my free speech. I exercised my legal and ethical freedom of choice to do so.
So that’s what I advocate for the rest of society: we need certain mandates to control public health threats, but always maintain a safety valve for individuals to choose not to comply, but at a personal cost –a cost that I personally have been willing to pay several times in the past. It seems my detractors are simply unwilling to pay that personal cost –e.g., leaving a job that requires vaccination- or any cost, for that matter.
Whatever. “@thewwwdot” is entitled to an opinion, however asinine. But some may wonder why it doesn’t bother me that much. That brings us to this quote from Mahatma Gandhi:
This is the essence of the philosophy that I try to espouse. I don’t always succeed. But I try. And it baffles me how the screed that my father hammered into my psyche early in life –that so many kids learned for generations- that, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” has somehow fallen out of fashion.
The Gandhi quote is reflected in the philosophy of stoicism, something I’ve written about before in this space. Over the course of the pandemic, I’ve felt myself increasingly finding solace in the embrace of ancient philosophies, whether it be stoicism, vedic philosophy, taoism, or some hybrid of all of the above.
To then end, I found a list of seven important quotes from Marcus Aurelius, one of the great stalwarts of stoicism. I thought I would take a moment to go through each and see how I’ve managed to apply each to my life these past two years.
1. “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
What this means to me is that times of challenge are also times to shine. I practice being grateful for when I’m presented with a setback, as such a scenario represents an opportunity to practice my discipline and philosophy. Of course, this comes with a limitation; I am not grateful when faced with tragedies or the suffering of loved ones.
Beyond gratitude, this quote represents to me a reminder that life is not about happiness or pleasure or even love. Life is about meaning and understanding. I feel that both are best explored in the context of struggle. It’s the obstacle that moves my personal evolution forward.
2. “You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.”
In other words, don’t worry about things you can’t change. This is a challenging one for those of us who live in our minds. We can convince ourselves that we can change anything, however indirectly. So I feel this sentiment is best applied to personal scenarios.
I can’t control what a troll might write about me. There might be a temptation to alter my message in hopes of mollifying the negative reaction I might receive. But trolls are gonna troll. That’s what they do. For me, the lesson here is that I’m going to be vilified no matter what I say or write, by those who have decided that I am an enemy or a “tyrant.” So I might as well be as truthful and genuine as I can be. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t… so you might as well do.
3. “You don’t have to turn this into something. It doesn’t have to upset you.”
This is the error mostly of youth, when a misunderstood sentence is perceived as offence. To me, this quote suggests that if I can interpret someone’s words in many ways, I should choose the way that is least offensive. Give others the benefit of the doubt. Whether or not someone’s words upset me should entirely be my choice.
To be honest, I struggle with this one. When I’m tired or feeling particularly underappreciated, I can lapse into an easily-triggered state. I’ve also found that it’s hard to retreat from comfortable patterns of behaviour with certain loved ones, even when those patterns are not healthy.
But this is a sentiment I truly wish to incorporate into all aspects of my life.
4. “Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.”
5. “Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn’t matter.”
I think of these two quotes as two sides of the same coin. As an academic, the temptation to cogitate upon what constitutes proper behaviour is great. But what matters is whether I actually abide by that behaviour.
I’m reminded of a Louis CK joke in which he talks about flying first class on an airplane. He sees a soldier flying economy, going off to war and possibly to his death. Louis imagines himself giving his seat to that soldier, but does nothing. Yet he congratulates himself for entertaining the thought of doing a noble deed.
It is important to do the deed, not just to think about the deed. I have a lot of work to do on myself here.
6. “Understand that your time has a limit set to it. Use it, then to advance your enlightenment; or it will be gone, and never in your power again.”
I think about this every waking hour. I’m an infamous procrastinator. And I’m clever enough to justify in my mind any time wastage. But as I get older, I think I understand better what proper time usage really is. Getting my work done? I’m not sure that’s important. Answering 100 emails tonight really doesn’t advance the world in any particular fashion. But spending time with my son is always worthwhile, for both him and me.
I do consciously think about the old quote, presumably from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” I cringe when my loved ones want to talks to me about gossip or celebrities. I feel it diminishes us both and detracts from my desire to formulate meaning and understanding. But, to be honest, I sometimes descend to such banality.
7. “The needs of a happy life are very few.”
This quote resonates with me now because it’s how I’d always described by father, who died last year. My father was an autodidactic intellectual who had very little desire to travel or to experience things –even though his early life was well defined by profound travel and experience. In his later years, he was more interested in thinking and learning and discussing. It was a frustrating mindset in many ways. In my more charitable moments, I would translate my father’s philosophy as, “Everything you need in life is right here. Why go elsewhere?”
I have love, family, friendship, health, food, a roof over my head, and no particular suffering experienced by my loved ones at the moment. In the context of the history of the world, those factors make me among the wealthiest men who have ever lived.
Why would I want more?