MARCUS Aurelius (121-180 AD) is a name I first came to know through Richard Harris’s kindly portrayal of the Roman Emperor in Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning movie, ‘Gladiator’.
In more recent years, as my reading list embarked down a new path, Aurelius came back into view and nowadays I regularly find myself dipping in and out of his insightful ‘Meditations’.
In a job such as this, you regularly find yourself tackling a range of sensitive, tough and wholly difficult topics. Journalism is a challenging job, it’s frequently enjoyable but there are times when one would rather do anything other than write about a difficulty or tragedy that has befallen a family.
Such words are never composed lightly and those who protest loudest that they are have presumably never been charged with writing them.
In an era where social media is practically unavoidable from a practitioner’s perspective, a lot of posters (but not necessarily regular readers) routinely tell you how utterly brilliant or downright dreadful you are. So how do you process this sort of feedback? Speaking only for myself, I do my utmost not to dwell on comments that cover both ends of the critical spectrum. Rarely in life are we the extreme characteristic – positive or negative – that others may seek to impose on us. Rarer still are we what we perceive ourselves to be, particularly during a low personal ebb.
The following comment by Marcus Aurelius in one worth painting on a school hallway, a dressing room or across a public square. In a world with more toxic commentary than at any time in history, his words ring as true today as they did when first written almost 1900 years ago.
“Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I shall meet people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, unsocial. All this has afflicted them through their ignorance of true good and evil. But I have that the nature of good is what is right, and the nature of evil what is wrong; and I reflected that the nature of the offender himself is akin to my own – not a kinship of blood or seed, but a sharing in the same mind, the same fragment of divinity. Therefore I cannot be harmed by any of them, as none will infect me with their wrong. Nor can I be angry with my kinsman 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 in opposition to one another is against nature: and anger or rejection is opposition.”
The impulse to reply to criticism on Twitter or Facebook is natural. But it’s not always the best path to choose. What need does it fulfil from my perspective to challenge everyone I believe is having a pop at me, particularly at the excessive end of the scale?
There is little to be gained from trying to reason with someone who has a fixed view of what he/she thinks of you, so therefore why bother to engage at all?
None of us have a monopoly on knowledge but what we do have is an ability to digest information and then decide how we choose to process it.
Do we choose to take it personally? Do we choose to take it on board and use such comment to make potentially better decisions in the future or do we choose to ignore it? Choice, for me, is the commonality at play here.
We can choose to make each day more difficult by our own choices, not because of the two cents offered by some faceless online bot. But if you choose to make the best of every day, then those low ebbs become shallower over time.
And it’s not about running 10 miles a day, reading a book from cover to cover, eliminating carbs from your diet and telling all your Facebook buddies about it.
Sometimes the triumph is achieved by purely functioning, in getting up, making your bed, having a shower and going to work.
And if you give the reflection in the mirror each morning a clean break every 24 hours, the chances are you’ll make life decidedly easier on the person you and you alone can most positively influence. Marcus Aurelius was well and truly onto something. He’s worth listening to.