Eighth, consider how much more pain is brought on us by the anger and vexation caused by such acts than by the acts themselves, at which we are angry and vexed. Marcus Aurelius Meditations Chapter 11
Events happen. Our impressions determine how good or bad they are, right? If this be true, then certainly our reaction, or worse our over-reaction to something that disturbs us cannot possibly make it better.
I have a confession. One day, not too long ago I found my son’s shoes not put away. They were sitting in the middle of the floor, where I tripped on them. In a fit of discontent, I threw them across the room. My accuracy was terrible in this state, and one of them struck a candle holder hanging on our wall. Multiple glass candle holders fell, shattering on the floor. My reaction to a negative was WORSE than the original problem. In an instant, I relearned a lesson that Marcus had been trying teach himself so many centuries ago. Never let it be said that I don’t learn from my mistakes.
This does make me wonder. Did Marcus write his meditations to overcome his weaknesses? Did he stray from his own wisdom often? Did those close to him see a different side of him, a part that did not follow his own advice? I would imagine so. Why else would he need to re-motivate himself. So often, we know what we should do and yet we don’t do it. This is when we fall from virtue. If I were perfect, I doubt I would need to write about how to strive for perfection.
In any case, Marcus has it right. To react with anger only makes things worse. But there’s more. Many of us hold on to our anger, to our vexation. When something doesn’t go our way, when someone says something bad about us, when we do something embarrassing, or we fail, we obsess about it, and the anger lingers. We let it disturb us in some way for long afterward, sometimes for years. Some of us, some of you may die with your disturbance, whether it be anger, shame, disgust, what have you.
Why should I do this? Why not just let it go? It can be done. I just have to decide to do so. The past is past. Now is all that I have. Why let those things from the past irritate me now. Worse, why let those things gather more importance as they roll down that hill of time within my memory? Why let an event’s memory grow larger and larger in importance? I catch myself doing this all the time, but then I remember. I remember that I am a Stoic, that I have control over my impressions and basically nothing else. I might as well control that which I can control.
So, as I ponder the eighth of the nine rules of chapter 11, I have two things to remember:
- Don’t let my reaction to an event make it worse in the short term
- Don’t let my past irritation linger, and really don’t let it grow into something greater.