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Ian O'Byrne

Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration's shove or society's kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It's all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager. - Susan Sontag In issue of TL;DR - #persistence


Ian O'Byrne

The palace is not safe when the cottage is not happy. - Benjamin Disraeli In issue of my newsletter. You should subscribe at #civilian


Ian O'Byrne

Negotiating the positive & negative as a citizen of the world

3 min read

On the fifth day of Stoic Week 2016, we are asked to consider our relationships with others and society in general. The handbook and daily prompts for the week are available here.

Today's reflection comes from Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.1:

Say to yourself first thing in the morning: I shall meet with people who are meddling, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable. They are subject to these faults because of their ignorance of what is good and bad. But I have recognized the nature of the good and seen that it is the right, and the nature of the bad and seen that it is the wrong, and the nature of the wrongdoer himself, and seen that he is related to me, not because he has the same blood or seed, but because he shares in the same mind and portion of divinity. So I cannot be harmed by any of them, as no one will involve me in what is wrong. Nor can I be angry with my relative or hate him. We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work against each other is contrary to nature; and resentment and rejection count as working against someone. 

I take this to mean that we should remain linked to others and their actions, while at the same time remaining true to our own compass and directives. It is possible to focus on the two aspects in our daily interaction. We may also learn about oursleves as we interact and learn from others.

Marcus Aurelius details the opportunities to learn from these experiences in Meditations, 6:48:

Whenever you want to cheer yourself up, consider the good qualities of your companions, for example, the energy of one, the modesty of another, the generosity of yet another, and some other quality of another; for nothing cheers the heart as much as the images of excellence reflected in the character of our companions, all brought before us as fully as possible. Therefore, keep these images ready at hand.

Of course there are times when we do not agree with, or can learn from our colleague or neighbor. Within these interactions, we may find a common thread that binds us together. Marcus Aurelius expands on this in Meditations, 4.4: 

If intellect is common to us all, then so is the reason which makes us rational beings; and if that be so, then also common is the reason which prescribes what we should do or not do. If that be so, there is a common law also; if that be so, we are fellow citizens; and if that be so, the world is a kind of state. For in what other common political community can we claim that the whole human race participates? 

This points to the idea of "citizens of world" in which we all generally feel affection for others in a deep and natural way. We may be citizens of a specific country or region, but we also carry dual-citizenship and in the end are all fellow citizens in a global community.

In closing, Seneca expands on this notion of cosmopolitanism or our dual citizenship:

Let us take hold of the fact that there are two communities — the one, which is great and truly common, embracing gods and humans, in which we look neither to this corner nor to that, but measure the boundaries of our citizenship by the sun; the other, the one to which we have been assigned by the accident of our birth.


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