In Meditations Marcus Aurelius explains his philosophy of the world that would later come to be understood as an approach to stoicism. He shows us the benefits of deep thought and reflection, and guides us through a process of self-awareness to help us control our actions and thoughts in the face of adversity, success, or and everyday occurrences. One of his suggestions which resonated with me was a short sentence about justice and fairness, “The best way of avenging thyself is not to become like the wrong doer.” In this simple sentence Aurelius shows us the importance of acting on our own with integrity, and of acting with a clear focus to avoid worsening ourselves through our reactions to being harmed.
The quote also reminds me of California Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s dissent against the use of military force in Afghanistan in 2001 in which she quoted a member of the clergy who spoke at a 9/11 memorial service the morning of her vote. Representative Lee encouraged her fellow members of congress to be less volatile and more tempered in their response to the terror attacks on September 11th, 2001 and she ended her speech by saying, “As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore.” Her quote ties in with Aurelius by focusing on standing tall in the face of adversity and not allowing ourselves to be continually harmed by a single instance of evil. As I have written in the past, Aurelius built his stoic mindset through self-reflection and control, striving to “be like the promontory against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames he fury of the water around it.” By choosing how we will react to the negative we have the power to improve ourselves and our fortunes, or we have the ability to abandon our will and allow ourselves to devolve to the same evil which we seek to overcome.
If we wish to become better people then we must understand that revenge is not something that we best achieve through violence or the destruction of the other, but rather through deeper understanding, communication, and mutual respect for the other. We can surpass our base reaction and become better than that which tries to harm us by remembering what President Lincoln said, “Have I not destroyed an enemy when I make him a friend?”