This blog post is the first in a series which attempts to thematically extract from the 12 books of the ‘Meditations’ , the personal and philosophical diary written by Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD.
His private thoughts were written in numbered paragraphs, without any thought or intention of publication. The reader may find herself returning to them again and again. The below documents some of his thoughts relating to kindness, according to my own interpretation:
11. 18(9): Kindness is invincible – if it is sincere, not fawning or pretence. What can the most aggressive man do to you if you continue to be kind to him? If, as opportunity arises, you gently admonish him and take your time to re-educate him at the very moment when he is trying to do you harm? ‘No, son, we were born for other purposes than this. There is no way that I can be harmed, but you are harming yourself, son.’ And show him delicately how things are, making the general point that bees do not act like this, or any other creatures of gregarious nature. But your advice must not be ironic or critical. It should be affectionate, with no hurt feelings, not a lecture or a demonstration to impress others, but the way you would talk to someone by himself irrespective of company.
7. 63: ‘No soul’, says Plato, ‘likes to be robbed of truth’ – and the same holds of justice, moderation, kindness, and all such virtues. Essential that you should keep this constantly in your mind: this will make you more gentle to all.
11. 24: At their festivals the Spartans would put seats for visitors in the shade, and sit themselves wherever they could.
9. 42(1): Whenever you are offended at someone’s lack of shame, you should immediately ask yourself: ‘So is it possible for there to be no shameless people in the world?’ It is not possible. Do not then ask for the impossible. This person is just one of the shameless inevitably existing in the world. Have the same thought ready for the rogue, the traitor, every sort of offender. The recognition that this class of people must necessarily exist will immediately make you kinder to them as individuals.
4. 20: Everything in any way beautiful has its beauty of itself, inherent and self-sufficient: praise is not part of it. At any rate, praise does not make anything better of worse. This applies even to the popular conception of beauty, as in material things or works of art. So does the truly beautiful need anything beyond itself? No more than law, no more than truth, no more than kindness or integrity.
5. 6: One sort of person, when he has done a kindness to another, is quick also to chalk up the return due to him. A second is not so quick in that way, but even so he privately thinks of the other as his debtor, and is well aware of what he has done. A third sort is in a way not even conscious of his action, but is like the vine which has produced grapes and looks for nothing else once it has borne its own fruit… So you ought to be one of those who in a sense, are unconscious of the good they do.
7. 73: When you have done good and another has benefitted, why do you still look, as fools do, for a third thing besides – credit for good works, or return?
9. 42(4): Above all, when you complain of disloyalty or ingratitude, turn inwards on yourself. The fault is clearly you own, if you trusted that a man of that character would keep his trust or if you conferred a favour without making it an end in itself, your very action its own and complete rewards. What more so you want, man, from a kind act? Is it not enough that you have done something that is consonant with you own nature – do you now put a price on it? As if the eye demanded a return for seeing, or the feet for walking. Just as these were made for a particular purpose, and fulfil their proper nature by acting in accordance whenever he does something good or otherwise contributory to the common interest, he has done what he was designed for, and inherits his own.
8. 59: Men are born for the sake of each other. So either teach or tolerate.
As always, please leave any thoughts or comments below.