One of the greatest works of Philosophy comes from an Emperor who lived almost 2000 years ago. Such was the nature of hiswork, that men and women throughout the ages have continued to use his work ‘Meditations’ as a guiding philosophy for life. From betrayal by his close allies, to being jailed and even facing a pandemic lasting for 15 years, he continued to live by his philosophy and showed how the philosophy of stoicism can help people shine bright even in the darkest of times.
- On Forgiveness
Hold yourself to a very high standard, and don’t make excuses when you fail to meet it. Meanwhile, leave other people to their standards and make every excuse you can when they fail.
It is not easy to forgive someone who has wronged us. The faith you held is shattered, the betrayal is often a big blow to our ability to trust people, but we don’t know the battles people fight. Make every possible excuse for someone who has wronged you and forgive them because it will soothe your pain, as well as that of the wrongdoer. President Abraham Lincoln would pardon many deserters of the Civil War. Young boys who had run away from the army, after witnessing the bloodshed or the cold, harsh conditions they had to fight in would run away and would often be sentenced to die by their general. Lincoln would justify these as ‘leg cases’ saying that if God has given them a cowardly pair of legs, how can they help running away with them?
- Inner Peace
The objects whose pursuit or avoidance disturbs your peace do not come to you, but in a measure, you go to them.
Recognizing an event in our life for what it is, will disallow it from overpowering our mental peace. However, it is not an escape from the reality of the situation – instead, a way to think thoroughly about what is happening without losing our sense of rationality. When your computer crashes right when you were towards the end of a project, instead of dwelling on what has happened and our misfortune, berating ourselves for not saving the work, we must acknowledge what has happened and without any judgement about the nature of the problem, work towards building it all over again. The sooner we get to action, the faster we can get past our problem.
- Dealing with Hate
Will any man despise me? Let him see to it. But I may see to it that I may not be found doing anything that deserves to be despised.
Try to stay calm and maintain a cool head in the face of hatred and do not give in to the same passions as those who hate us. Go one step further, make a resolution that may I never use words or perform such actions that deserve the disdain of those around me.
- Ideal Man
Waste no more time in arguing about what a good man should be. Instead be one.
To lead by example is an attribute of great men. Dr. Kalam would recall when ISRO’s SLV-3 mission failed, 40 seconds prior to the liftoff, he received a warning from the computer to not launch the satellite. Consulting with his team and in his capacity as the Project Director, Dr. Kalam bypassed the computer and launched the vehicle. Hundreds of people having toiled on the it for 10 years, the SLV-3 satellite found itself not in the sky but in the Bay of Bengal. The decision backfired. Though he had taken the decision to overrule the computer, during the press conference, ISRO’s then chief, Satish Dhawan took the blame on himself, assuring the media that they would come back next year with no changes in the team, as it was a great team. The next year, Dr. Kalam and his team launched Rohini RS-1 into the orbit successfully and this time, the ISRO chief took a back seat and asked Dr. Kalam to hold the press conference all by himself.
“Pass through this brief patch of time in harmony with nature, and come to your final resting place gracefully, just as a ripened olive might drop, praising the earth that nourished it and grateful to the tree that gave it growth.”
Out of his 11 books that form ‘Meditations’ Book 1 is entirely about Marcus Aurelius extending gratitude. From his grandfather to this mother, to his father who died before Marcus could even have a childhood with him, he holds deep gratitude towards those who built him.
Gratitude is said to have proven scientific benefits as well. According to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences, people who are grateful experience fewer aches and pains in their body and they feel healthier than others.
- On Battling a Plague
In the year 165, Marcus Aurelius was faced by a plague not much different from ours. Events cancelled, travel was delayed, and people grew fearful of this plague that would start off with symptoms of fever and headaches, but soon black rashes would cover the body and within 5 days, death would take over.
All hope was directed to the emperor. What shall be done? He implored his subjects to remain calm, he said that all of this has happened before and will continue to happen in the future. We have, for years, been subjected to major events and natural calamities outside our control. Marcus Aurelius executed his duty as an emperor even in this trying time. Though nobody would expect it of the emperor, he stayed in Rome when all the rich had feld for safer areas. He listened to advice from the brightest minds, he put the best doctors in charge. He made efforts to curb the economic damage. Debts to government were cancelled, he sold the treasures in his empire, everything from gold goblets to his wife’s jewellery to fund purification initiatives. He knew how important it was for the government to hold the trust of the commoners. He stayed at a huge cost to his life, he attended funerals, he wept for his subjects when they died, but he never showed fear. He locked down his citizens, but his doors remained open to priests and doctors of varied specialty, anyone who could help. He travelled his empire, he gave speeches to create awareness, to give strength and inspire courage.
The crises lasted for 15 years and 10-18 million people died and inevitably, when he got exposed and he knew he had only days to live, never failing from his duties, he executed a succession plan to ensure a peaceful transition for the next heir in line.
Marcus Aurelius believed that a plague can only threaten our lives but evil, pride, selfishness and acts done out of these feelings threaten humanity. Kindness, fearlessness, humility and dutifulness will see us through a tough time and take as into a brighter future as better people.