How Marcus Aurelius can help you get through a crappy Christmas.

The Independent Philosopher has already touched on how Christmas can be a tough time when you’re alone, but it can also be hard (or harder) where there is family involved.

If you’ve been following our previous commentaries on Marcus Aurelius that you can find here and here, you will notice a running theme: it it’s outside of your control, don’t worry about it.

The emphasis on Aurelius’ account here is the ability to transcend the worldly dilemmas that an individual deals with on a daily basis, and develop a character that, although aware of the world around it, is impervious to the issues that it faces. We can think of this as an early version of transcendental idealism that Kant explores. By gaining an understanding of ourselves, we find that we are well adjusted and reasonably impervious to the situations around us.

For example, say that one of your in-laws makes an offensive remark to you this Christmas. You may feel (and justifiably so) that this is an unfair. You know that if you engage your in-laws in an outright argument, you’ll never hear the end of it, and you’ll add tension to an already tenuous relationship. Whereas it does not seem fair that you should bite your tongue, Aurelius’ solution to such a situation is reasonably direct – as the solution would end up being worse than the problem – it is out of your control.

On face value, this seems like a reasonably defeatist view to take. To group all the unfair acts we see in the world under the category of the modern equivalent expression ‘god’s will’ sounds more like a a cop-out than the level headed approach of Aurelius. However, Aurelius’ account of ‘gods will’ actually gives us a better chance of becoming less emotional when dealing with external influences. If we spent our entire lives reminiscing on all the cruel and unjust actions in the world, we would become devastated and be unable to function. Instead, there is an underlying message in Aurelius’ teachings here, and that is, we should not let actions outside of our control affect us.

Aurelius tells us:

I consist of body and soul. To the body indeed all things are indifferent, for it cannot concern itself with them. But to the mind only those things are indifferent which are not its own activities ; and all those things that are in its own activities are in its own power.’ (λβ΄. Έκ σωματίον είμί καί ψνχής. τϖ μέν οΰν σωματίω πάντα άδιάϕορα· οΰδέ γάρ δυναται διαϕέρεσθαι. τή δέ διανοία άδιάϕορα, όσα μή έστιν αύτής ένεργήματα· όσα δέ γε αύτής έστιν ένεργήματα, ταΰτα πάντα έπ΄ αύτή έστιν.)

So, this Christmas, if someone is out of line, shrug it off. A lot of horrible things happen in the world that are far worse than what someone has said to you – and you haven’t let those things ruin your day. Nor should you let the opinion of someone you don’t even like bother you.

Thomas Green

Postscript: If my in-laws are reading this, I wasn’t referring to you. You’re upright people. I’ll see you in a few hours.

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