February 20, 2017 – The Grand Parade of Desire

“Robbers, perverts, killers, and tyrants – gather for your inspection their so-called pleasures!” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.34

Today’s culture is very aware of judging others. My daughter routinely replies to my observations, and sometimes she’s being funny, with “don’t judge me”. We need to be careful with how loosely we approach the act of judging. We make judgments in order to make informed decisions. When I’m hiking and I come across a bridge, I’ll judge the stability of the planks and cabling before I cross it.

We do the same with people. How is it possible that we come trust someone if we are not making judgments about their character. Citing the Christian bible:

John 7:24 Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.

The Stoics speak to a person not being defined by how they look. Even actions may not be capable of disclosing the quality of the person. In the Discourses Epictetus writes:

“In a word, neither death, nor exile, nor pain, nor anything of this kind is the real cause of our doing or not doing any action, but our inward opinions and principles.”

The robber, pervert, killer, and tyrant..what are the principles within them that motivate them to perform their atrocious acts? These principles will be reflected in their actions. These are obviously extreme examples, but it reminds us that we can learn from others through their actions. We can understand why they did it based on their principles. Judgment, itself, is not the problem but rather what and how we are judging.

We don’t need to make the same mistakes that have already been made. Be observant, with a proper mind.


January 20, 2017 – Reignite Your Thoughts

“Your principles can’t be extinguished unless you snuff out the thoughts that feed them, for it’s continually in your power to reignite new ones…It’s possible to start living again! See things anew as you once did – that is how to restart life!” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 7.2

Yesterday’s meditation was about focusing on what we can control. We control where we go. We do not control the road, and we do not control the obstacles/challenges/experiences we meet along the way. We control how we perceive them, how we let them affect us and how we respond to them.

Today we meditate on our principles. What is a principle? It has many definitions, but for our purposes let’s define it as something that is a foundational belief. Who we are, and how we act, grows from our principles. An example from Socrates:

“One who is injured ought not to return the injury, for on no account can it be right to do an injustice; and it is not right to return an injury, or to do evil to any man, however much we have suffered from him.”

Socrates mirrors what Marcus Aurelius is asking us to do: In spite of outside influences only we have the ability to remain consistent by living consistently with those principles we value. Yet Bruce Lee tells us to consider our principles as things which are not fixed.

“Obey the principles without being bound by them.”

As I watch, and read, the responses to our incoming president in light of his inauguration I have to wonder if some people are proud of how they are presenting themselves? Do they value the principles of civility, patience and compassion? If they do, what will they think of themselves upon reviewing how they reacted?

Two points of focus. First, our principles do not disappear. We can act in a way inconsistent with who we want to be, but as Marcus Aurelius reminds us we can reset ourselves. Second, our principles are not absolute laws that bind us. As Bruce Lee reminds us, our principles can grow as we do, and as we redefine them we are also resetting ourselves.

Some time ago I was someone who battled with road rage. At times I would follow someone who I felt had done me an injustice. What changed me was being one of the carpool parents who drove our group of children to school. I had to reevaluate this principle of justice for the sake of being a safer driver. Was this concept of justice a valid principle? This change in responsibility ignited new thoughts, allowing me to become a person more consistent with my higher principle of mindfulness.

We will make poor decisions. We will allow the actions and/or words of others to act in contrast to who we want to be. Politics is one of those subjects where at times we lose our balance, quit thinking and let our emotions dictate more than they should. No matter how we may have acted, or what we may have said, we always have the ability to change our thinking in order to “start living again”. Clarity is just a thought away.