Ten Rules from Marcus Aurelius

In one of my readings of Marcus Aurelius's Meditations this week, a specific passage, Book 11 Chapter 18, stood out to me. In this passage, Marcus discusses ten rules that he attempts to keep in mind as he goes throughout his day, as these rules are meant to guide his conduct and behavior towards others. The entire passage itself is well worth reading in full, but as an exercise for myself, I decided to try and extract the core essence of each rule, and re-write it in a way that was easy for myself to understand and apply. Sometimes Marcus simply says it best, and other times I take a little liberty with my interpretation of what he is saying. I suggest that others attempt this exercise on their own as well, at the very least it will make you think a little harder about what Marcus is trying to say to himself here and why. This is my summary of Marcus's ten rules on how to treat others.

  1. Remember that as humans, we exist to help one another. We cannot thrive, or even survive without help from others.
  2. Recall specifically what kind of person you are dealing with right now, how they behave in all of their various endeavors, what compulsions and opinions they are subject to which causes them to behave as they will.
  3. If someone is acting right by what they do, there is no reason for you to be annoyed with them. If however they act wrongly, recall that this is done so involuntarily, and due to a kind of ignorance, for no soul is willingly deprived of the truth or of right action.
  4. Recall that you yourself have committed many wrongs, just as this person has done. Even if you refrain from the particular kind of wrongdoing that they themselves are engaged in, remember that the same inclinations that they act upon exist inside of you as well, and given similar conditions, you may of behaved in the same way.
  5. Often, you cannot even be certain that what someone does is truly wrong. This is because you must know a great deal about the goals and intentions of others before you can accurately make this kind of judgment.
  6. When you find yourself losing your patience and becoming annoyed with another, recall that the life of a human lasts for but a mere moment, and that we exist for far too short a span of time to spend even one more second of it annoyed at others.
  7. Recall that it is not people's actions that trouble us, but the opinions that we form about these actions. All who do wrong hurt themselves by making their character bad, while you are free from injury as long as you behave correctly towards them.
  8. Do not forget, the anger and distress that we feel at the behavior of others frequently brings about more suffering to us than the actual action which gave rise to the anger in the first place.
  9. Remember that kindness is invincible, if it is truly sincere. You should attempt to correct the wrongdoings of others if you can, but one must do so affectionately, without sarcasm or hatred.
  10. Never forget that those who have a poor character do indeed exist in this world, and that to expect these kinds of people to do no wrong would be to wish for what is impossible. With a character like that, how could they behave otherwise?