Throughout his book Meditations, Marcus Aurelius presents us with very realistic ways to approach the world and think about our lives. His philosophy of stoicism is based on self-awareness and a perception of the world that is not founded on emotion and desire, but is instead based on reason and rational thought. This philosophy is folded into his thoughts about what we can change in the world, and is on display in the following quote, “It is a ridiculous thing for a man not to fly from his own badness, which is indeed possible, but to fly from other men’s badness, which is impossible.”
In this quote what Aurelius is truly writing about is our ability to change and improve ourselves, and our inability to change and improve other people. One of the guiding principles of Aurelius’ stoicism is the view that we can be in complete control of our faculties of mind, and that through processes of self-awareness we can control our thoughts and perceptions. When you focus on your own mind it becomes possible to recognize your good and bad behaviors and begin to make changes in the behaviors that you wish to avoid. You may seek the guidance and wisdom of others to achieve the goals and changes that you want, but ultimately the only person who can change your thoughts and beliefs is you, because no one else can be in control of your rational mind.
Aurelius is showing us in his quote above that we should be more interested in improving ourselves than improving others. He recognizes that it is impossible for us to change another person when they are in control of their mind. We may provide them with additional information and explain the ways that we see and understand the world, but it is up to the individual to build change into their life. Recognizing that we are powerless to truly change one another, Aurelius makes us question why we would spend time striving to do so. We can focus on ourselves and try to change ourselves since our mind is within our control, but it is a waste of time and focus to look toward the errors of others and take actions to try to change them, especially if they are not aware of their misdoings.