When it came to complaints, Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius stayed true to his stoic philosophy and took a step back to consider his thoughts and actions before complaining about those around him and about the things in life which happened to him. Through rational thought and reason Aurelius found that complaining led to no benefit in his life, and he sought to make the most out of his time and thoughts on Earth. Aurelius wrote, “Let no man any longer hear thee finding fault with the court of life or with thy own.”
I think there are a few perspectives that Aurelius is adopting in this quote that encourage us to find ways not to complain about our lives. The first is the simple idea of not complaining which is never as easy as the short sentence makes it seem. He is encouraging us to begin our complaint free life by not voicing our complaints. This will open up new conversation for us with others, leading to more positive interactions with those around us. Rather than blowing off steam by talking about the negative aspects of our days and lives, we can focus on the positive or what we have recently learned. Our mind can be shifted and adjusted to give up the negative and more strongly highlight the positive in all aspects of our life.
The second level of Aurelius’ quote has to do with our perception of reality and what we understand as good or bad. The emperor had a keen sense for the way that our perspective shaped the way we understand the world, and throughout Meditations he focused on ways that we could adjust our perception to adjust the reality in which we live. As he wrote the following about our focus, “how much trouble he avoids who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only to what he does himself, that it may be just and pure” we can make a decision about our perspective to focus on the positive or the negative. We can hold up what we find to be good, or we can look down upon ourselves as hopeless beings wrecked by the negativity around us.
When we voice our complaints we are showing the rest of the world that we do not hold strong perspectives. We show others that we have abandoned control of our mind through rational thought, and we have allowed outside forces to control and shape our interpretations and beliefs of the world. For Aurelius the most important thing one can do with ones mind is shape it to be self-empowered and not dependent on other people or things for happiness and meaning. When we quit complaining we take a step closer to this goal. We allow ourselves to see the world in a spectrum that is not black or white, opening new avenues for decisions and actions. Aurelius would agree with George Saunders who wrote a letter for James Harmon’s book Take My Advice, when he wrote, “enter a new moral space in which the emphasis is on seeing with clarity, rather than judging.” When we complain we are not looking at events with clarity, but we are judging each moment by the negative, and our opinion shapes independent events, changing randomness to an evilness that we powerless against.