In Meditations Marcus Aurelius shares his thoughts, ideas, and perspectives on how to live a complete and happy life. His insights explain the philosophy of stoicism, and the life examples and experiences that the emperor shares allow us to see the ways in which stoicism lends itself to leadership and compassion. For Aurelius, stoicism was not just a philosophy or a way to look at the world, but rather a way to act and pragmatically approach the world. One of the best ways to describe this philosophy is in the following quote from Aurelius’ writing, “Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it.”
I usually hear people use the word stoic to describe people who simply show no emotions: sports figures who seem to have no reaction to individual plays in a game, poker players who keep the same face throughout a hand, or people at work who seem to be a bit monotone and without passion. What Aurelius shows us in his quote is that it is more practical to be a stoic and to feel emotion, but to stand strong in the face of he emotion. The metaphor of the promontory facing rough seas evicts emotion, but the emotions it presents are strength, unwavering support, and calmness. Being one who lacks emotion may help you achieve one of those three ideas, but you cannot reach all three without showing some form of emotion.
I think the best way to think about stoicism is not through the lack of emotion, but through the deliberate use and control of emotion. Stoics may be temperate in their behavior and they may appear as though nothing stirs them, but they do know when to use and direct their passion greater purposes. Maintaining an even keel in regards to our emotions is a key part of stoicism, but what Aurelius advocates for is not achieving a level-headedness through the absence of emotion. Feeling and understanding our emotions will help us build empathy with other, and it will drive us to action that is greater than our individual desires. Understanding which emotions and decisions make us great furthers our journey, while letting our emotions drag us around uncontrollably will drown us in the raging tides of reactionary thoughts.