Delighted? Vexed? You Fool!

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Everything which happens is as familiar and well known as the rose in spring and the fruit in summer; for such is disease, and death, and calumny, and treachery, and whatever else delights fools or vexes them.

Marcus Aurelius, Mediations 4.44

Marcus coming in hot today. You’re vexed by things? Delighted by things? Why? These things that inspire these feelings have always been the things that exist. It’s never been the case that death hasn’t happened, or disease, or treachery, or fill-in-the-blank, nothing is new, and everything should be expected within a lifetime if you’re in anyway reasonable or sensible in your expectations of life.

Same with good things; the blooming flowers in the the spring, the fruiting fruits in the summer, there are seasons, and they come and go, and you know this. So when something good happens, or something bad, why are you vexed? Why are you delighted? Are you a fool?

I personally think Marcus is being a little rough with himself here. I don’t think it’s un-Stoic to smile when something good happens, or cry when something bad happens, and while that might not be the case for the Sage, we aren’t sages and sagehood to, presumably, all of us, is an ideal we strive towards while recognizing probably ain’t never gonna happen. It’s like striving to be the perfect parent, you’ll fail, undoubtedly, but that effort to be the best you can be will make you a really great parent.

The takeaway from this meditation probably isn’t that you need to smack yourself in the face every time you get angry or excited because “of course” things will go wrong a lot, or right from time to time, but that you should be more prepared for inevitable outcomes. Illness is inevitable, so is pain, so is loss, so is joy, doesn’t matter who you are; Bill Gates or Bill Nobody, good things and bad things are going to happen to you indiscriminately and, to wrap up, I think the takeaway is just that you need to be less aloof in your expectations of life so that when the inevitable things happen you’re more intellectually and, if you like, spiritually prepared for them.

No matter how you slice it, a car accident that results in the loss of one of your legs, isn’t going to be fun experience. But if you’ve shaped your expectations of live to include things like this happening, it might be the case that when you lose your leg, it’s a little easier to accept the loss and more quickly recover your meaning and the value of your life. This is, to reference yesterday’s episode a bit, easier to do when you perceive Virtue to be the only thing that really matters because guess what you can still be and do whether you have no legs, one, or two? You can still be virtuous and you can still live a good life.

About the author

Tanner Campbell

Hi, I'm Tanner. I spend most of my time writing in the philosophy space and I'm the host of the Practical Stoicism podcast. When I'm not writing, I'm reading or recording. In rare moments when I'm not writing, reading, or recording, I'm spending time with my partner and our dogs.

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