Addicted to approval

Concern for approval is a counterproductive habit that kills the spirit. It’s also exhausting and inefficient. Marcus Aurelius can help us overcome this tendency by inviting us to contemplate the mind of the critics we fear.

This is the second in a series of blog posts attempting 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. (The first post is on Kindness)

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.

This post documents his thoughts relating to overcoming our need for approval, the fear of being judged and dealing with criticism. It is my hope that his words help you break free from such concern so that you may get on with whatever it is you want to create, or do:

7. 62: All the time you should consider who are these people whose endorsement you wish, and what are the minds that direct them. When you look into the sources of their judgement and impulse, you will not blame their unwitting error, nor will you feel the need of their endorsement.

9. 27: When another blames you or hates you, or people voice similar criticisms, go to their souls, penetrate inside and see what sort of people they are. You will realise that there is no need to be racked with anxiety that they should hold any particular opinion about you. But you should still be kind to them. They are by nature your friends.

10. 13: As soon as you wake from sleep ask yourself: ‘Will it make any difference to you if others criticise what is in fact just and true?’ No, it will not. You have surely not forgotten what these people who whinny in praise or blame of others are like in their bed and at their board, the sort of things they do and avoid or pursue, their cheating and stealing, not with hands and feet, but with the most precious part of themselves, the part where – if allowed – there grows trust, decency, truth, law, the spirit of goodness.

4. 3(4): Be your own master, and look at things as a man, as a human being, as a citizen, as a moral creature. And here are two of the most immediately useful thoughts you will dip into. First that things cannot touch the mind: they are external and inert; anxieties can only come from your internal judgement. Second, that all these things you see will change almost as you look at them, and then will be no more. Constantly bring to mimd all that you yourself have already seen changed. The universe is change: life is judgement.

9. 18: Penetrate into their directing minds, and you will see what sort of critics you fear – and what poor critics they are of themselves.

Please comment with any thoughts or reflections on this post.

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