Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him, For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.
The first lesson that Marcus teaches us is to set an expectation every morning that we will experience both good and bad things today. Why? Happiness comes from the fulfillment of expectation. Misery comes from unfulfilled expectation. If we set the daily expectation that bad things are just as likely to happen to us, then we are less likely to be miserable.
The second lesson is about empathy. The people whom we consider good and bad, are no different to us. They live, breathe, eat and sleep just like we do. Having understood this, we should also understand that they aren’t inherently good or bad people. We are all a product of our circumstances. Our circumstances are often out of our control. Therefore, we should aim to be forgiving and compassionate because under the same circumstances, we might behave the same way as well.
The third lesson is about cooperation. This is born out of empathy, forgiveness and compassion. Once we remove malicious intent from the actions of others, we can realise that our livelihood depends on others. We are all co-dependent. In some indirect way, the people whom we encounter everyday are just as important to us as we are to them. These people go and serve other people. They provide for other people. Those people then go and do the same for others. It’s cyclical. Eventually this cycle leads back to us and others doing things that help us. Therefore by cooperating and being compassionate towards others, we are also being compassionate to ourselves.
The full text of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations is available here.