Welcome back to Lifehacker's weekly dip into the pool of stoic wisdom and how you can use its waters to reflect on and improve your life.
Photo by schizoform.
Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I shall meet people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, unsocial. All this has afflicted them through their ignorance of true good and evil. But I have seen that the nature of good is what is right, and the nature of evil what is wrong; and I have reflected that the nature of the offender himself is akin to my own - not a kinship of blood or seed, but a sharing in the same mind, the same fragment of divinity.
Therefore I cannot be harmed by any of them, as none will infect me with their wrong. Nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him. We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work in opposition to one another is against nature: and anger or rejection is opposition.
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.1
What It Means
You will encounter cruel, troublesome people you can't stand at various times in your life. Aurelius defines these types of people as "evil," but what he actually means is they are ignorant, or lacking in certain knowledge. So, the difficult people you might encounter on a day-to-day basis are simply those who are ignorant to the knowledge you possess.
They don't know what you know, so to you they are bad or wrong or "evil." But you don't know everything they know either, and <may be seen the exact same way from their perspective.
But the big lesson in this passage is this:
...I cannot be harmed by any of them, as none will infect me with their wrong. Nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him. We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work in opposition to one another is against nature: and anger or rejection is opposition.
These "meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, unsocial" people cannot harm your inner spirit — only you can do that to yourself by letting them alter your perception. And they should not change the direction your own ethical compass points without providing you the necessary knowledge required to do so.
No matter how irritating and problematic someone is, that's not (usually) their intention, and you should not hold it against them. Do not get angry, do not get upset, and do not push them away. Instead, make peace with your differences and seek out cooperation as best you can. We as a species were meant to work together through thick and thin.
What to Take From It
As you slog through your workday, interact with others in social spaces, scroll through your Facebook and Twitter feeds, remind yourself that most of those people that make you shudder with rage are not weapons designed to ruin you. They are merely people with a different outlook on life. And even if some are weapons — haters gonna hate — don't forget that you can choose to wear an invincible armour.
You can choose to let their attacks glance off of your inner spirit, mind, conscious, soul, or whatever you choose to call your operating system. Their words cannot infect you unless you let them in.
Lastly, know that cooperation is the key to true progress. The more angry you get with these seemingly ignorant people you deal with on the daily, and the more distance you try to put between yourself and them, the more difficult you make it to achieve progress in the long run. End your offensive, let go of your ego, know nothing can harm your spirit, and choose to work together. Seek compromise. It's easier said than done, no doubt. But you can endure, and by doing so, you will set an example that others will follow.
Are there people who constantly criticise you, tell you that you can't do things, make you feel bad about yourself, even yell at you? These are toxic people. Dealing with them is never easy, but it's such a difficult problem that it's worth looking at some strategies you might consider.