Written by TKS Toronto Student Ahmed Moselhi (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” — Marcus Aurelius
This is my favourite quote from Marcus Aurelius.
The first thing Marcus taught me.
There doesn’t seem to be any figurative language or metaphors, no hidden meaning or themes, he’s just being straightforward. Right? Well, actually it has one thing:
You might be asking “what the hell are levels” or “my English teacher didn’t tell me about this.” Well yeah, that makes sense cause I just made it up.
I was looking for the perfect word that helps describe my interpretation of the quote and it just popped into my head so it’s going to stick. But since the way I’m using the word is made up I guess I’m going to have to explain a little.
When I say level, I mean different depths of interpretation. The surface level of interpretation is “Oh It’s talking about a morally good person.” But the more I thought about it, I started seeing it would apply to every part (level) of life, just by switching out the word “man”.
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good — Learner? — Entrepreneur? — Scientist? — Friend? — Father? — is. Be one.”
The quote isn’t just talking about being nice and kind to other. It’s about examining every area of your life. The things you do, your hobbies, your career and your relationships. and just being the BEST.
What’s the best….?
YOU define it. DECIDE FOR YOURSELF WHAT EXACTLY WOULD MAKE YOU A “good (insert here),” don’t wait for people to decide for you. Set your own standards, don’t try to conform to the standard set by society. This doesn’t only spare you the stress of attempting to please others around you, but it helps you set goals you see as achievable.
Waste to more time arguing what being Happy — Successful — anything is. Be that thing.
Now we’re looking at the quote from a different point of view. This is what the quote essentially boils down to.
Stop looking at society to define things for you that aren’t valid!! Yes, things like ethical or scientific questions to must be discussed, but we’re talking about decisions that only you can make. On what authority does anyone have to tell you what happiness means to you. They aren’t the ones living in your head, living from your point of view.
The way you experience the world will ultimately shape your definition happiness and other abstract concepts, and that’s the definition you should live by.
Part of having the ability to define things for yourself is knowing yourself.
The second thing Marcus taught me is self-examination.
“These are the characteristics of the rational soul: self-awareness, self-examination, and self-determination. It reaps its own harvest.. . . It succeeds in its own purpose” — Marcus
Marcus’ book “meditations” is actually his journal. Every day he would go home and write in it before he went to sleep. He’d recount experiences in his day, things he noticed, interactions with other people.
The greatest things he wrote down in that journal though, were his interaction with himself. These interactions gave him a better understanding of who he was as a person which made me realize that a lot of people don’t truly understand themselves, including me a few months ago.
I started asking myself questions, A SHIT TON OF QUESTIONS. Every emotion I experienced and the thoughts that popped into my head I would ask things like:
Why did I think that way? Why did this thing make me feel this way? etc
Through this questioning process, I come to understand the driving force behind these emotions. You might think you know yourself but you really don’t, not until you’ve actively made an attempt to do so.
By asking the questions we transfer our thoughts and feelings from a subconscious state to a conscious one which we tend to remember.
When you taste something bad, let’s say coffee, you’re triggering an emotional state. The bad taste in your mouth causes you to consciously consider the coffee.
“Ew, I don’t like this,” → “Why didn’t I like it?” → “Cause it’s so bitter.” →“Maybe, I won’t drink it again.”
Now you remember you dislike coffee.
But when you have a bad experience with someone you never go through that process it just ends at “Damn I didn’t like that conversation.”
We often forget the → “Why didn’t I like it?” → “The person was too hostile,” → “Maybe I won’t talk to them again.”
A great way to really understand yourself is through meditation which I found very helpful. I mainly use the calm app but there are different ones out there.
Being self-aware is very helpful when trying to rationalize with yourself.
With the ability to have rational control of your mind, you’re able to develop effectively develop and utilize mindsets. Just by literally convincing yourself of ways to be.
That’s the third thing Marcus taught me.
Marcus had a shit ton of conversations with himself in the morning. Casually waking up every day just talking in his own mind. These conversations ranged from him literally getting himself to leave his warm blanket in the morning.
“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?” — Marcus
or telling himself how shitty people are
“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.” — Marcus
Notice how he says “tell yourself?”
Once you have a good grip of yourself, it becomes so easy to use logic and reason to deal with your own mind and have it do exactly what you want. Marcus used this rationalization to do two things:
The first is that he convinced his mind of taking action. In this case, it was him getting out of bed but I can bet he used it in other cases too. You can use common sense to convince yourself to do things like be more productive or eat healthily and exercise. All things that can help improve your overall quality of life.
The second was Marcus’ ability to mentally prepare himself and make himself stoic to types of people he might experience.
This allowed him to do something most people can’t do: Nothing.
“The more we value things outside our control, the less control we have.”
This quote is absolutely beautiful to me because it just makes so much sense, yet I never would’ve thought about it myself. I was able to accept what that when it came down to things I couldn’t control, I had to stop worrying about them.
It helped me come to the realization that the only unbiased and impartial thing in the universe was the universe. No one is special, so no one deserves special treatment and therefore, bad shit and good shit will happen to people in different proportions.
Yes, you might believe that something happening to you is undeserved or that the universe hates you but it really doesn’t. Same goes for regret if something bad has already happened, there is no point in thinking back to it because nothing will ever undo it. IF YOU CAN’T DO ANYTHING ABOUT THEN STOP WORRYING.
It’s like running on a treadmill, you’re exhausting yourself but going nowhere.
This self-examination and rationalization allowed me to become more conscious of my time.
Do you ever look back at a week and you’ve forgotten what you did on a specific day? That sucks. BUT, it’s an indication of something way bigger.
You’re living your life on autopilot.
The fourth lesson Marcus taught me is to…
A day shouldn’t just be a measurement of time, but it’s a measurement of progress. Every day should be a process with discipline. That doesn’t mean that every day should be the same but the way you go about your day, your mindset, is set.
I started waking up knowing EXACTLY what I want to every day, the goals that I want to achieve, the milestone I’ll be trying to hit that day. Weirdly enough, I started remembering more and more of my days. I had landmarks associated with them, things I planned to do that I had achieved.
I became conscious of most of the days I went through, which opens your eyes to how precious time really is. I started assigning a monetary value to my time and as I got more productive that value went up.
This idea of living every day with intention, yet so many people seem to just live life being controlled by their subconscious with moments flashing by them.
TAKE THE DAMN STEERING WHEEL AND GO WHERE YOU WANT TO!
Living consciously will help you get a sense of time, but that time will eventually end.
The last thing Marcus taught me is to deal with death.
“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” — Marcus
Everyone knows everyone dies.
But everyone would like to forget that everyone knows that everyone dies.
It’s just not pleasant to think about. The darkness, the ambiguity, the emptiness. Not being able to do alive people things makes people uncomfortable.
Marcus learned to adapt to that, through things like his self-rationalization, self-understanding and intention. He crafted a life which he enjoyed living. A life which he was proud of having had the chance to live.
Everyone ends up in the same place, death doesn’t discriminate and no one can control it. All fearing death does, is distract from the current life that we have to live.
People who don’t want to die have things they regret, things they wanted to do, things they wanted to be. Yet they weren’t able to because they held themselves back one way or another.
“Death overshadows you. While you’re alive and able — be good.” — Marcus
That’s why it’s so important to live a good life as a good person.
Your definition of good.
Because in the end, that’s all that matters.