“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
It seems that in these modern and stressful times that stupidity and intolerance are ever expanding, while virtue and simple manners are retreating at a violent pace. What passed from grace and manners in my youth, are now just about forgotten. Not a day goes by that I don’t see multiple instances of ill-manners, stupidity, narcissism, and intolerance in my interactions with others, whether on the road, in public, or at work.
Not that these were not widespread as well when I was younger, but at least these were aberrations and not the norm, and when they occurred the persons showing these behaviors usually had the self-awareness and grace to be ashamed of their conduct. Now, people are not only not ashamed, they celebrate their self-destructive and obnoxious behavior and wear it as a badge of honor, posting it on the internet and in the media (which enables and promotes it further). Fame has become a more desirable goal than self-respect.
The lesson for me? I won’t let the conduct of others set the bar for my behavior. Living a virtuous life is hard, even more so when I sometimes feel I am the only one attempting to do so. In the end though, I believe that the rewards of living a virtuous life accrue to me and those I care for, and therefore are worthy goals for me to pursue. Fame is fleeting, virtue can last a lifetime.