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(For reading in Chinese, please scroll down to the end of the English text. Thanks to advances in AI translation services, we can bring you my drivel in Mandarin Chinese, courtesy of DeepL.com. Yes, I realize that the translation is imperfect but please be patient; this is a new technology and will improve rapidly.)

(For international readers, allow me to explain: I am an American but I have lived in China since 2004. My city of Chongqing, often abbreviated as CQ, is pronounced Chong Ching to rhyme with Wrong Ring. CQ is a megacity of 30 million people in south-central China, on the Yangtze River near the Three Gorges Dam.)

(June 2020 from the 18th-floor homestead.)

As we continue the upward spiral towards a New Normal, I am more grateful and appreciative than before. (Before = pre-pandemic.) Division of labor, smoothly functioning infrastructure, a rapid-response supply chain, family and work colleagues able to make their respective contributions, and a reasonable expectation of personal safety and healthcare services are all things the past few frightful months have made me aware are subject to interruption or even elimination without advance notice. With that recent glimpse into some pretty terrible possibilities, I am much more content – happy, even– with my current situation and relationships.

Don’t let your guard down too soon, however. The Covid-19 virus – and a Mr. Charles Darwin – are still waiting for the unwary, the unrealistic, and the foolish.

This article, originally published in October of 2019, is part of a series of reflections about what is truly important and valuable to us. The pandemic has made me conscious that some truths from ancient times are still relevant in today’s world.

Photo by Yoal Desurmont on Unsplash

To truly reinvent your life, the first step is to review and, as appropriate, to change your thinking. Sometimes, this means changing your previous opinions. But, sometimes, it requires going even deeper; you must change your habitual way of thinking. (Yes, we can make even our way of thinking and our worldview into habits – which, since they are now habits, require no further thought or examination.) Let’s step back in time to see what we can learn from a ruler of Ancient Rome.

Marcus Aurelius was emperor of the Roman Empire from 161 to 180 CE. At that time, he was unquestionably the most powerful man in the Empire and, perhaps, in the whole world. We remember him today as a symbol of the golden age of the Roman Empire, a man with unchallenged political and military power, classical education, and immense personal wealth and influence. In addition to all the other roles he played, he was also a stoic philosopher. Fortunately for us, he kept a private diary of his observations and thoughts which we can read in his book, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. So, what can we learn from Marcus Aurelius today? Let’s explore one fundamental concept that Marcus wrote about in his private journal.

Don’t get upset; do the right thing.

Wouldn’t it be nice to avoid conflict and complications in our dealings with others? Wouldn’t it be great if we never looked back at our decisions with regret? Marcus Aurelius wrote a note to himself with one sentence that will allow us to gain a great deal of self-control if we can master it. His seven words of wisdom: Don’t get upset; do the right thing. Sounds pretty simple, right?

At this point, allow me to insert a bit of Missouri doggerel as a corollary to this deep statement by the Roman philosopher-king. In Missouri, we would say, “You hardly ever get in trouble for the things you DO NOT say.” I offer this statement because, although no one can dispute it, we usually ignore it while in heated exchanges with others. Indeed, take a moment to think of your current problems. How many were created or exacerbated by your impulsive, regrettable words which could not be recalled? Remembering and obeying the old adage about “Count to ten before you speak” would have spared each of us a great deal of time and trouble. Don’t ask how I know.

Don’t get upset. You should remember these words were written by a man with the power of life and death over all the people around him. If you upset the Emperor, it might literally cost you your life. There was no one and no law to stop him from ordering his guards to take you out and kill you immediately. But he was reminding himself to not get upset – to control his first impulses, to control his emotions.

Don’t get upset. This is difficult enough to do under the best of circumstances. During the course of a normal day, we experience a number of provocations that test our patience. They are mostly little things… like the erratic drivers with uncertain parentage of the cars on the street in front of us, the foolish mistakes committed by people we are depending upon, someone nonchalantly breaking a promise, or an irritating personal habit of some person we must interact with. Perhaps it is because a person is demanding something unreasonable from us. Maybe someone doesn’t show gratitude for what we have done. Maybe they fail to show us respect or courtesy. Maybe, for unknown reasons, they are acting rude, childish, and selfish.

But Marcus tells us to not get upset. Even the Roman Emperor had to deal with unwelcome people and unpleasant events. Even the most wealthy and powerful man in the world could be frustrated by someone’s thoughtless behavior. So, in his diary, he reminded himself, “Don’t get upset.”

It’s not easy to control yourself when someone’s behavior or statements are offensive. But, Marcus says we should not get upset – and he is right. By not responding to the provocation, we avoid inflaming the situation and possibly creating a more serious problem. The minimum damage would be disturbing our emotions, disrupting our own plans, and wasting our time on some little issue. Sometimes, the best thing we can do to avoid escalating a conflict is to simply say nothing. Our ego doesn’t like this response but, in retrospect, it is often the wisest choice. Again, don’t ask how I know.

Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

Do the right thing. If you thought “Don’t get upset” was tough, you’re gonna love Part Two. The second clause in his admonition, to “do the right thing”, is a quantum leap more difficult to achieve. Even if we stifle our initial reaction and control our behavior so we don’t act upset, it is still possible to feel anger towards the offending party. Later, when we respond to a situation involving that same person, our first impulse is to get some form of revenge. At the minimum, you can refuse to cooperate with the person who offended you. Maybe this will take the form of not aiding them when they need help you can provide.

But Marcus says that not getting upset is only half the ideal response. In addition, he requires you to “do the right thing”. He means to be wise in your actions. He urges you to make the decision you believe is proper and fair, even if it means agreeing with the person who offended you.  

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful improvement in the quality of your life if you no longer had to deal with all the little upsets – and with our heated responses to those little upsets? Wouldn’t we live more peacefully and with better relationships? Wouldn’t we be spending more time on the truly valuable things in our life if we weren’t wasting time and energy dealing with tiny, unimportant incidents? Wouldn’t we be happier?

So, why aren’t we? I urge each of you to resolve to follow the advice of a man who was not only the most powerful man in the world in his day but whose words we are still reading two thousand years later: Don’t get upset; do the right thing. (As a first step, how about adopting the cachet of, “Count to ten before you speak”?)

Me? I still struggle daily with implementing these ideas in my life. And, ironically, it is the people closest to us – our immediate family, close friends, and coworkers – who most often upset us. My wife, in particular, knows all my “hot buttons” to push which often provokes a hasty and unjustified over-reaction from me. (Fortunately, I have learned that the best way to drive her crazy is for me to cheerfully ignore her baiting.)

Don’t get upset; do the right thing. These two simple suggestions from Marcus Aurelius are still very valid principles to follow today. Now can you see why we still read his words nearly 2,000 years after his death?

I wonder if the wife of Marcus Aurelius kept a journal.

Photo by Alex Holyoake on Unsplash

(2020年6月,从18楼的家园出发)。

当我们继续向 “新常态 “攀升的时候,我比以前更加感恩和感激。(以前=大流行前。)分工协作、运转顺畅的基础设施、快速反应的供应链、能够各司其职的家人和同事,以及对人身安全和医疗服务的合理预期,这些都是过去几个可怕的月份让我意识到的,在没有提前通知的情况下,这些东西都会被中断甚至消除。有了最近对一些相当可怕的可能性的一瞥,我对自己目前的处境和人际关系更加满意–甚至是开心。

不过,不要过早地放松警惕。Covid-19病毒–还有查尔斯-达尔文先生–还在等着那些不小心、不切实际和愚蠢的人。

这篇文章最初发表于2019年10月,是关于什么是对我们真正重要和有价值的系列思考的一部分。大疫让我意识到,古代的一些真理在当今世界仍然适用。

罗马皇帝的箴言

要想真正重塑自己的生活,第一步就是回顾,并酌情改变自己的想法。有时,这意味着改变你以前的观点。但有时,这需要更深入,你必须改变你的习惯性思维方式。(是的,我们甚至可以把自己的思维方式和世界观变成习惯–既然已经成为习惯,就不需要再去思考和检查了)。让我们回到过去,看看我们可以从古罗马的一位统治者身上学到什么。

马库斯-奥勒留在公元161年至180年期间担任罗马帝国的皇帝。在当时,他无疑是帝国乃至整个世界最有权力的人。我们今天对他的记忆是罗马帝国黄金时代的象征,他拥有无可匹敌的政治和军事力量、古典教育以及巨大的个人财富和影响力。除了他所扮演的其他角色外,他还是一位沉稳的哲学家。幸运的是,他把自己的观察和思考写成了私人日记,我们可以在他的《马库斯-奥勒留的沉思录》一书中读到。那么,今天我们可以从马库斯-奥勒留那里学到什么呢?让我们来探讨一下马库斯在私人日记中写到的一个基本概念。

不要生气,要做正确的事。

如果我们在与他人的交往中避免冲突和复杂化,不是很好吗?如果我们从不带着遗憾回顾自己的决定,那不是很好吗?马库斯-奥勒留给自己写了一张纸条,上面有一句话,如果我们能掌握这句话,就能让我们获得很大的自制力。他的七句智慧箴言。不要生气,做正确的事情。听起来很简单吧?

这时,请允许我插入一点密苏里的狗屁话,作为罗马哲学家王的这句深奥话语的必然结果。在密苏里州,我们会说:”你几乎不会因为你不说的事情而惹上麻烦。” 我之所以提出这句话,是因为,虽然没有人可以质疑这句话,但我们在与他人激烈交锋时通常会忽略这句话。的确,花点时间想想你目前的问题。有多少是由你冲动的、后悔的、不能回忆的话语造成或加剧的?如果记住并遵守 “数到十再说话 “的古训,我们每个人都会免去大量的时间和麻烦。不要问我是怎么知道的。

不要生气。你要记住,这些话是一个人写的,他的生杀大权在他身边的所有人身上。如果你惹恼了皇帝,可能真的会要了你的命。没有人也没有法律可以阻止他命令他的卫兵立即把你带出去杀掉。但他在提醒自己不要生气–要控制自己的第一次冲动,控制自己的情绪。

不要生气。在最好的情况下,要做到这一点已经很困难了。在正常的一天中,我们会遇到一些挑衅,考验我们的耐心。它们大多是一些小事……比如我们面前街道上那些不确定亲属关系的反复无常的司机,我们所依赖的人所犯的愚蠢错误,有人毫不客气地违背了承诺,或者是我们必须与之交往的某个人的恼人的个人习惯。也许是因为某个人对我们提出了一些不合理的要求。也许有人没有对我们所做的事情表示感谢。也许他们没有对我们表示尊重或礼貌。也许,出于未知的原因,他们表现得粗鲁、幼稚、自私。

但马库斯告诉我们,不要生气。即使是罗马皇帝也不得不面对不受欢迎的人和不愉快的事件。即使是世界上最富有、最有权势的人,也会因为某人的无心之举而感到沮丧。所以,他在日记中提醒自己:”不要生气。”

当某人的行为或言论令人不快时,要控制自己并不容易。但是,马库斯说,我们不应该生气–他是对的。通过不回应挑衅,我们可以避免激化局势,并可能造成更严重的问题。最低限度的伤害是扰乱我们的情绪,打乱我们自己的计划,并在一些小问题上浪费我们的时间。有时候,为了避免冲突升级,我们能做的最好的事情就是什么都不说。我们的自我并不喜欢这种反应,但回过头来看,这往往是最明智的选择。同样,不要问我怎么知道。

做正确的事情。如果你觉得 “不要生气 “很难,那你一定会喜欢第二部分。他告诫中的第二条,”做正确的事”,是一个更难实现的量子飞跃。即使我们扼制自己最初的反应,控制自己的行为,使自己不表现出不高兴的样子,仍然有可能对冒犯的一方感到愤怒。后来,当我们对涉及同一个人的情况做出反应时,我们的第一冲动就是要进行某种形式的报复。最起码,你可以拒绝与冒犯你的人合作。也许这将采取的形式是,当他们需要你能提供的帮助时,不帮助他们。

但马库斯说,不生气只是理想对策的一半。此外,他还要求你 “做正确的事”。他的意思是,在你的行动中要有智慧。他敦促你做出你认为正确和公平的决定,即使这意味着同意冒犯你的人。

如果你不再需要处理所有的小不快–以及我们对这些小不快的激烈反应,那岂不是你生活质量的一个美妙改善?我们是不是会活得更平静,关系更好?如果我们不再浪费时间和精力去处理一些不重要的小事件,我们是不是会花更多的时间在生活中真正有价值的事情上呢?我们不是会更快乐吗?

那么,我们为什么不呢?我敦促你们每个人下定决心遵循一个人的建议,他不仅是当时世界上最有权势的人,而且两千年后我们还在读他的话。不要生气,做正确的事情。(作为第一步,不如采用 “数到十再说话 “的腔调)。

我呢,每天还在为在生活中落实这些理念而苦恼。而且,具有讽刺意味的是,最经常让我们心烦意乱的是我们最亲近的人–我们的直系亲属、亲密的朋友和同事。尤其是我的妻子,她知道我所有的 “热点”,经常会引起我仓促而无理的过度反应。幸运的是,我已经学会了让她发疯的最好方法就是我愉快地忽略她的诱导)。

不要生气,要做正确的事。马库斯-奥勒留的这两个简单的建议在今天仍然是非常有效的原则,可以遵循。现在你能明白为什么我们在他死后近2000年还能读到他的话了吗?

不知道马库斯-奥勒留斯的妻子有没有写日记。

通过www.DeepL.com/Translator(免费版)翻译

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