This week’s selection comes from Marcus Aurelius and his Meditations, a collection of personal notes he wrote to himself that were never intended to be published. In book four, Aurelius provides us with an example of the power of our perception on the world and the often terrible, vocal people in it:
“Take away thy opinion, and then there is taken away the complaint, “I have been harmed.” Take away the complaint, “I have been harmed,” and the harm is taken away. That which does not make a man worse than he was, also does not make his life worse, nor does it harm him either from without or from within.”
Or more simply translated as:
“Choose not to be harmed—and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been.”
What It Means
This is basically a Stoic version of “sticks and stones” or “haters gonna hate.” What people say or do cannot harm you unless you let it. You choose to be offended, hurt, embarrassed, angered, or defensive. If you decide what was said or done means nothing to you, you feel nothing, and are thus unchanged.
What to Take From It
Random people in your world have no power over your mind and emotions. Those things are in your control, or at least they should be. If some stranger says something uncouth or does something with the intention of putting you down, they aren’t doing anything to you at all. They are only feeding into their own anger and lack of control in their own lives. Don’t be like them. Let their words and actions bounce off. Choose to not be affected by other people and you won’t be.
Yes, people can harm us physically, and those close to us can abuse us mentally. Those things are out of your control and must be dealt with as they come. But for everything else—the petty remarks, the insults, the lies, the attacks on our character—you are protected if you choose to be. As Aurelius puts it, “That which does not make a man worse than he was, also does not make his life worse…” Most of the time, there’s no reason someone else’s negative words or actions should have any effect on you at all.