This is fourth in a series of nine. The first is here.
“Fourth, consider that thou also doest many things wrong, and that thou art a man like others; and even if thou dost abstain from certain faults, still thou hast the disposition to commit them, though either through cowardice, or concern about reputation, or some such mean motive, thou dost abstain from such faults.” Marcus Aurelius Meditations Book 11
Why am I good? Why do I tell the truth, refrain from stealing, act polite with those I can’t stand. Why am I faithful to my wife? Is it primarily because I fear the consequences? This is different than considering the consequences, and then rationally deciding my behavior, isn’t it? It is also quite different than the fact that I actually love and respect my neighbor and their property…that I love and respect my wife.
The truth is that I don’t have all the answers. When is stealing OK? When I am starving? Shall I die rather than steal a loaf of bread? The answer is a lot simpler when I have a full belly. How much does fear play in my decision not to steal? Fear of getting caught, fear of losing my reputation, fear that people won’t respect me or like me…all of these are motivators to do what would be considered right. Is shame enough of a motivator? Is it shameful if shame plays at least a part in my behavior? If I transcend shame, then am I more moral?
Marcus views others in the quote above, by first focusing on himself. He gives an honest self-assessment, and a harsh one. Have I done so with myself? Even with all of these “mean” motivators to do the right thing, we still fail to do them from time to time. With this in mind, before I judge another, maybe I should have judged myself first.
When someone treats me with disrespect, insults me, or even fails to acknowledge my good deeds, it is often because of the very weaknesses we humans possess in common. The very weaknesses I posses myself. We can be base, immoral, greedy, and selfish. We can delude ourselves. Each of these have served human beings in ways we cannot fully fathom. Some of these traits, when you think about them, actually contributed to humanity’s survival…stealing and selfishness meant obtaining what was needed for sustenance, multiple sexual partners meant propagation of the species, even violence guaranteed personal or group survival in certain situations.
However, we all delude ourselves. Tactical survival doesn’t necessarily mean strategic success. Sometimes we think that immediate needs validate immoral actions. People fall back, they choose immediate gratification instinctively, without thinking. You do it, I do it, and they do it.
To live the “good life,” we must strive to be noble and transcend our animal nature, but I just think we need perspective. We all are engaged in this struggle every day. Today some of your friends, your boss, coworkers, your beloved, the guy at the checkout line are engaged in this struggle. Some of them are losing, failing, sinning…some of these sins are against you. Remember your own struggle and forgive, have perspective.