As I write, the minions of X have just waged a campaign on Wikipedia to revise the facts of one of the best known episodes in American history so its entry will conform to their idol's dazzlingly dumb word-salad version of that event. Elsewhere, Y is closing in on hit number 3,000. And Z, who has long wanted one, just got an afternoon talk show.
No point naming names. They don't matter. If these people didn't vie for our attention -- and our rage, our envy and our amusement -- others would. Life is incessant. And busy. And it's been that way forever.
"Life is all warfare and a stranger's wanderings, and the reward is oblivion," Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD) writes. His remedy:
Do not waste what remains of your life in speculating about your neighbors... To wonder what so-and-so is doing and why, or what he is saying, or thinking, or scheming -- in a word, anything that distracts you from fidelity to the ruler within you -- means a loss of opportunity for some other task.
Marcus Aurelius was not the first to see the world as a play in which the characters chase after shadows, forget they are the leading actors of their own dramas and discover too late -- if at all -- that they have wasted their lives. And he was not the first to know what to do about it. But he was blunt and brief and non-judgmental, and the combination makes him stand out from other philosophers. Almost 2,000 years after his death, you can read him as if he published his book last week. [To buy the paperback of The Essential Marcus Aurelius for $8 from Amazon, click here. For the $8.99 Kindle download, click here.]
"Small indeed is the life which each person lives, and tiny is the corner of the earth where he lives. Small too is even the longest after-glory, which is handed off, as in a relay race, to others who will soon be dead, not having known even themselves, let alone someone who died long ago."
And he is merciless on the importance of our little lives: "A short life is common to all, yet you avoid and pursue things as though you will live forever. In a little while you, too, will close your eyes, and soon after that another will mourn the person who carried your coffin."
Sweetness? There's plenty of it here, much of it surprising. He's big on kindness to neighbors. He believes no one does wrong intentionally. He suggests that you take "revenge" on others by not being like them.
Mostly, though, he hammers two points home: Life is change. Our days are but a series of choices. From Thich Nhat Hanh and the Zen master Shunryu Suzuki to Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl -- what smart thinker says different?
Marcus Aurelius says it in 95 pages. Very helpful. You can read him in an hour and then get on with your life.
Cross-posted from HeadButler.com