January 24, 2017 -Push for Deep Understanding


“From Rusticus…I learned to read carefully and not be satisfied with a rough understanding of the whole, and not to agree too quickly with those who have a lot to say about something.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 1.7.3

If there is anything in this world that I take pride in it’s the way I’ve raised my children. There is a demand imposed upon them: do not assume to know the depth of any argument based on how it’s presented to you by either individuals or institutions. They may not practice it with perfection, but hopefully, they do so with proficiency.

I fail more often than I’d like. Upon reading this meditation from Tuesday I found myself in a state of solemn reflection. I did not touch The Daily Stoic, or this blog site, until this evening. How many times have I rushed to judgment? How often to I ramble instead of pausing to appreciate the thoughts of others?

Rusticus was a Stoic who taught Marcus Aurelius. In Marcus’ biography Historia Augusta this is noted about Rusticus:

“He received most instruction from Junius Rusticus, whom he ever revered and whose disciple he became, a man esteemed in both private and public life, and exceedingly well acquainted with the Stoic system, with whom Marcus shared all his counsels both public and private, whom he greeted with a kiss prior to the prefects of the guard, whom he even appointed consul for a second term, and whom after his death he asked the senate to honour with statues.”

In his Meditations, Marcus writes:

“From Rusticus [I learned] to become aware of the fact that my character needed improvement and training; and not to be led aside into an argumentative sophistry; nor compose treatises on speculative subjects, or deliver pretentious sermons, or show-off with ostentatious displays of self-discipline or generosity; and to eschew rhetoric, poetry, and refined language; and not to lounge about the house in my toga, or to let myself go in this sort of way; and to write letters simply, like his own letter written to my mother from Sinuessa; to show oneself ready to be reconciled to those who have lost their temper and trespassed against one, and ready to meet them halfway as soon as ever they seem to be willing to retrace their steps; to read with minute care and not to be content with a superficial bird’s-eye view; nor to be too quick to go along with smooth-talkers; and to make the acquaintance of the Memoirs of Epictetus, which he supplied me without of his own library.”  1.7

If we only spend time with our own thoughts and ideas we are offered no insight into the world as others see it. Consider the depth of religious, political and philosophical arguments. Or consider something as simple as understanding why someone did something. At some point, we have to reach a conclusion so that we can move forward, but it’s very important to do so with a mind of humility. We cannot know everything. We should always be ready to listen. We should always expect opportunities for deeper understanding.

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