What to Do When You are Hurt or Offended - 8 Lessons from Marcus Aurelius
There will always be people who do things that hurt and offend us. To wish negative and hurtful people did not exist would be madness, and if we wish to guard ourselves against these people the first step is to recognize that they will always be there. People will always lie, cheat, steal, gossip, hate, deceive, and say hurtful things. Often we question why people lie, why people cheat, or why people are hateful. Would you not suppose a man to be an absolute fool if he wished that apples would grow from his lemon tree? In that same way, it is idiotic to wish that a liar would not lie. What else would you expect a liar to do?
Marcus Aurelius was one of the greatest emperors of Rome, and on his conquests he kept a diary in which he wrote his deepest thoughts and feelings. These writings have all been published in a book called Meditations. In this diary he dealt with many of the questions of life that we all face, including how to deal with hurtful or inconsiderate people. His Stoic philosophies are helpful for all who are searching for ideas on dealing with people, and dealing with themselves.
In this writing I would like to share some of my favorite advice given by Marcus Aurelius so that you may be better prepared for dealing with these people in the future.
Lesson 1: “Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me… I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him. For we are made for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to my nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.”
This is a beautiful quote to read every morning, because it makes you aware of the inevitable forthcomings of the day, and reminds us that we must act in a spirit of cooperation with all people.
The first takeaway from this lesson is that there is no point in becoming angry when we are faced with these kinds of people, for we know that they will always be there. It is a serious flaw in the human condition that we are so prone to becoming surprised over aspects of life that are so unsurprising. Secondly, we must face each day with an attitude of cooperation. How can we work well with these people who would do us harm? How can we turn enemies into friends? How can we fix broken relationships? We are all here for cooperation, not conflict.
Lesson 2: “He who does wrong does wrong against himself. He who acts unjustly acts unjustly to himself, because he makes himself bad.”
Here Marcus Aurelius reminds us that really it is not we who are hurt by wrongdoers, but it is the wrongdoers themselves who are hurt. Analise the acts of the negative person and you will soon find that their life is being affected more than yours. Pity the person who acts unjustly towards you, for theirs is a life of loneliness and pain.
Lesson 3: “When another blames thee or hates thee, or when men say about thee anything injurious, approach their poor souls, penetrate within, and see what kind of men they are. Thou wilt discover that there is no reason to take any trouble that these men have this or that opinion about thee. However thou must be well-disposed towards them, for by nature they are friends.”
Have you ever really looked deep into the life of a person who has wronged you, only to find that you don’t want or need their approval or support anyway? Why should you wish to be approved by gossips or negative people? Why would you wish to spend your time with these people? Look at the kind of person he or she is who wrongs you, and you will surely question why it is that you are paying so much attention to them in the first place. Again Marcus Aurelius reminds us that we must act towards them in a spirit of friendship, because that is our nature. But do not pay any unnecessary heed to their words or deeds.
Lesson 4: “When thou art offended with any man’s shameless conduct, immediately ask thyself, Is it possible, then, that shameless men should not be in the world? It is not possible. Do not, then, require what is impossible. For this man also is one of those shameless men who must of necessity be in the world. Let the same considerations be present to thy mind in the case of the knave, and the faithless man, and of every man who does wrong in anyway. For at the same time that thou dost remind thyself that it is impossible that such kind of men should not exist, thou wilt become more kindly disposed towards everyone individually.”
As I eluded to in the introduction to this writing, it is important to recognize that wrongdoers and negative people will always be in the world, and it is madness to expect otherwise. Marcus Aurelius suggests that it is a necessity that they should be here, and he is right, for without the negative there is no positive. There would be no good without bad, so why should we wish away the bad? When you are faced with a negative person, simply recognize that they are in their rightful place, and that they are also essential to the world. When you have come to terms with this fact you will, as Marcus Aurelius suggests, act in a more pleasing nature towards them.
Lesson 5: “Consider that thou 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.”
Every time you feel offended, simply remember that you are not perfect either. You have not lived a life that is without fault in the eyes of others, and so you may understand why these negative people do what they do. We are all human, and at times we act unjustly or without reason. And as Marcus Aurelius points out here, even if we don’t believe that we have acted in these ways, we can still recognize that we have oftentimes felt the desire to do so.
Lesson 6: “Consider that thou dost not even understand whether men are doing wrong or not, for many things are done with a certain reference to circumstances. And, in short, a man must learn a great deal to enable him to pass correct judgement on another man’s acts.”
Be sure to correctly analyze the situations and motives that were in place when you took offense or were hurt. It is important to recognize that we should never judge, seeing as we almost never know all the information. Remember that you might have done exactly what the wrongdoer did had you been in his or her position.
Lesson 7: “It is not men’s acts which disturb us, for those acts have their foundations in men’s ruling principles, but it is our own opinions which disturb us. Take away these opinions then, and resolve to dismiss thy judgement about an act as if it were something grievous, and thy anger is gone.”
This is one of the most important lessons to learn when it comes to freeing the mind from worry in regards to other peoples actions or choices. Everything is opinion. Something that seems wrong or immoral to you may seem perfectly normal to someone else. This is one of the most misunderstood facts in the world, and this misunderstanding it is one of the biggest creators of conflict among people. When we finally realize that everything is opinion we are more inclined to love and accept people in stead of condemning them. For more reading on paradigms and opinion see my blog post entitled Are Your Paradigms Affecting Your Ability to Grow?
Lesson 8: “Consider that a good disposition is invincible, if it be genuine, and not an affected smile and acting a part. For what will the most violent man do to thee, if thou continuest to be of a kind disposition towards him, and if, as opportunity offers, thou gently admonishest him and calmly correctest his errors at the very time when he was trying to do thee harm, saying, Not so, my child: we are constituted by nature for something else: I shall certainly not be injured but thou art injuring thyself, my child.”
When dealing with negative or hurtful people it is always a good tactic to employ good will. We must love those who harm us, for we are not made for conflict. As we have discussed, when others wish us harm it is only themselves who are harmed. We have the choice of remaining intact, and we have the ability to react to them only with love and patience. No one can stay angry at us or wish us harm for long if we face them with a clear conscience and a happy heart.
If you will think on these eight lessons every time you feel offended or hurt then soon you will have built a strong guard against these people. Remember that the goal is never to change other people, but to in stead change yourself, and the way you see the situation. You cannot change the way that others act towards you, but you can change the way you react to those peoples actions.
Marcus Aurelius was the ruler of one of the largest empires in history, and obviously he would have had more interactions with more kinds of people than we would ever expect to have. He is an expert on people. His Stoic philosophies are highly effective for anyone wishing to react better to those people who we interact with, and so I hope that you will take these lessons and put them to use daily. Only through action will you find the satisfaction that you are looking for, and soon you will have built a strong character that will guard you against all who would wish you harm.