It doesn’t matter what you do, your business is people. Banker, car mechanic, lawyer, computer programmer – everything you do includes the people around you, and the job that you do will inevitably be aimed at helping people. So, next to your name write the following: my business is people.
That paragraph above makes life tricky. Some people are nice, some are not. Some will compliment you and some will criticize you. As human beings, we find it easier to focus on the negative than on the positive. You might get ninety-nine compliments and one criticism, and guess which one goes through your mind at 2 a.m.
Marcus Aurelius in his book Meditations has some profound points regarding living things. He splits them into four groups.
Group 1. Living things without a conscience. (What constitutes conscience is a difficult debate and I don’t want to get into that at this point).
Group 2. Things with a conscience. This describes people that you come across.
Group 3. People with a conscience, and what Marcus describes as also having logos. These he rates as higher than the previous group.
Group 4. Those that obstruct you.
Let’s focus for a moment on the difference between group 2 and 3. The first stoic to speak of logos was Zeno of Citium in approximately 300 BC. He spoke of Logos as being a sense of reason that pervaded the Universe. Some Stoics attributed this to God, and others to nature. It’s vital at this point to remember that stoicism is not a religion, but rather a practical system of thought. (Christianity would later take on the word Logos as describing the Word of God).
Marcus Aurelius would take the theme of logos further than Zeno. In Aurelius’ understanding, the pervading sense of reason that determined the life of the universe could be tapped into by the individual. Tapping into that would give the individual a sense of purpose. The metaphor that has been used for that life purpose is a cart that is being drawn by a donkey. The wheels of the wagon find themselves in well-worn grooves. If you give the donkey an instruction to pull left, the cart suddenly becomes unstable and begins to judder. The path is the logos, the direction of the cart resembles your life. You are best made for your purpose. Life is never easy; however, you will feel most fulfilled when in your purpose.
According to Marcus Aurelius, these are the highest people you can hang out with. They don’t need to be on your path, however, you will know when you meet people that are those people. Hang out with them, chat to them, let their sense of purpose and excitement rub off on you. This is what mentorship is all about.
Time to look at that last group – those that obstruct you. Here is what Marcus says, “But when they obstruct our proper tasks, they become irrelevant to us – like sun, wind, animals. Our actions may be impeded by them, but there can be no impeding our intentions or our dispositions.”
Trying to resume friendships with those that have hurt you is, for the most part, a waste of time. Make those people irrelevant. In other words, disarm their ability to change your disposition. It’s easier said than done, but important to do. The people that hurt you the most are those that obstruct you on your path. It’s this wasting of time that is the most frustrating. Aurelius writes this, “There can be no impeding our intentions”.
Marcus Aurelius continues with one of his most amazing life insights, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way”. The wise will use these life altering moments, the challenges that get thrown in their path, to strengthen their resolve, to refocus, to move forward. Aurelius adds this, “The mind adapts and converts to its own purpose the obstacle to our acting.” You got fired – adapt. You got hurt – adapt. Adapt to your own purpose – find your groove. The wagon will travel way more smoothly.
I wrote the following short commentary on my Instagram page with regard to a quote from Zeno, “On a voyage between Phoenicia and Peiraeus the ship that Zeno was on suffered a ship wreck. Zeno accidentally ended up in Athens where at a library he was introduced to the writings of Socrates. This changed the course of his life and would lead to the basis of stoic thought. Don’t be scared of shipwrecks – use them to your advantage.
This is what Zeno wrote,
“Now that I’ve suffered shipwreck, I’m on a good journey”
Another Stoic, Epictetus would put it this way,
“The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.”
I hope this helps you on your journey.