Meditations on Meditations: Love (2:1)

Say to yourself first thing in the morning: I shall meet with people who are meddling, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable. They are subject to these faults because of their ignorance of what is good and bad.

But I have recognised the nature of the good and seen that it is the right, and the nature of the bad and seen that it is the wrong, and the nature of the wrongdoer himself, and seen that he is related to me, not because he has the same blood or seed, but because he shares in the same mind and portion of divinity.

So I cannot be harmed by any of them, as no one will involve me in what is wrong. Nor can I be angry with my relative 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 against each other is contrary to nature; and resentment and rejection count as working against someone.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2:1

Day 4 of Stoic Week takes the theme of love. Some people seem to think that love and Stoicism are mutually exclusive, that Stoicism is all about keeping a stiff upper lip and making sure footling emotions like love are well suppressed.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Marcus Aurelius describes Sextus, one of his earliest Stoic role models, as being “free of passions and yet full of love” (Meditations 1:9). What a wonderful way of being! Not languishing in thrall to anger or lust, but exuding a beneficent charm to all mankind, without exception.

The only objection I have to the passage selected for this morning’s meditation is the impression it gives that Marcus thinks himself holier than those wrongdoers.

They are subject to these faults because of their ignorance of what is good and bad. But I have recognised the nature of the good and seen that it is the right, and the nature of the bad and seen that it is the wrong…

I admire in Marcus his certainty of right and wrong, but I’m cautious that it might lead one astray, into a dismissive, closed attitude of ‘them and us’. But this is why the passage must be read and understood in full.

Marcus emphasises that, as members of the human race, we are all closely related and we are beholden to treat each other as such.

We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work against each other is contrary to nature…

So taking a dismissive, closed attitude to our fellow man is untenable for a Stoic. It would be a form of self-harm or self-hatred. Instead, we should cultivate that attitude that Marcus recognised in Sextus. We too should aspire to be free of passions and yet full of love.

Meditations 2:1 is rightly famous and often chosen for a thought for the day, but the bit I love most is its final nine words – tacked on almost as an after thought:

BY THE WAY, MARCUS … resentment and rejection count as working against someone.

Like Marcus, this feels like my biggest challenge to love. Rarely do I come into direct conflict or work in direct opposition to someone else. But how often do I harbour resentment, or outright reject and ignore them!

It’s worth repeating for myself:

So to work against each other is contrary to nature; and – BY THE WAY, DAVID – resentment and rejection count as working against someone.

What do you think?