Sage Advice: Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius was the last of the Five Good Emperors of ancient Rome, and sought to epitomize the Platonic ideal of the philosopher-king. A devoted Stoic, Marcus Aurelius’ reign is considered a high point in antiquity, despite the fact that during his regnum he fought wars against the Parthian Empire, Sarmatians, and Germanic tribes. His greatest legacy is Meditations, which was written in Greek and provides for readers a compendium of Stoic wisdom of a variety of subjects. The book emphasizes service, duty, benevolence, cheerfulness in the face of adversity, and has been a source of inspiration since Aurelius completed it. Below, I’ve reproduced some quotes from the Meditations that I think tutors and parents would find encouraging and enlightening in their quest to educate.

“A noble man compares and estimates himself by an idea which is higher than himself; and a mean man, by one lower than himself. The one produces aspiration; the other ambition, which is the way in which a vulgar man aspires.”

Have you ever noticed that the most fascinating, successful, nicest, and most dynamic people are those who are aware and have devoted themselves to ideas greater than themselves? Parents and tutors should try very hard to expose their children to ideas that transcend their own existence. This can provide a source of inspiration to a young person that will motivate them to learn from books, people, and experiences throughout their lives. It will make them excited to attend college, to explore their own creativity, and to grow. Anyone can have ambition; a well educated woman or man, however, has aspiration.

“Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.”

Tutors and parents should remind their children (and children often must remind their parents of this too), that no challenge is insurmountable. Everyone has a unique blend of skills within them to face any challenge, whether it be studying, taking an exam, writing an essay, or playing a competitive sport. All that requires is that one begins the effort, and consistently applies that effort. Which leads us to our next quote:

“Begin–to begin is half the work, let half still remain; again begin this, and thou wilt have finished.”

To begin is to fight half the battle, and it’s a struggle in which even adults will find themselves engaged. There is no magic formula for starting a difficult task, but encouragement from tutors and from parents counts for much. It also helps to keep an optimistic attitude, but one cannot always be enthusiastic about the task at hand.

“Execute every act of thy life as though it were thy last.”

Tutors, encourage your students to put all their energy into what they do. Only then can they reap the rich rewards that you and their parents say await them.

“Forward, as occasion offers. Never look round to see whether any shall note it… Be satisfied with success in even the smallest matter, and think that even such a result is no trifle.”

Teach students to engage their work with perseverance,  to place all their energies into the task at hand, and if they listen, they will do well. But ensure that the pupil does not become a perfectionist. This can hamper the progress of one’s education. Instead, teach them to happy only when they have put strenuous effort into their work. Once that has been done, satisfaction is a must. After all, nothing can ever be perfect.

“Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under thy observation in life.”

Here Marcus Aurelius has beautifully summarized why critical thinking skills are crucial to any activity in life. Whether in business, education, relationships, or any other endeavor, one must be sure to cast a discerning eye on everything. And this kind of discernment called critical thinking is best learned through the application of the mind to academics.

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”

Simply put, what you study and experience now, and what you studied and experienced in the past that allow you to meet the present, will allow the pupil to meet the future. Education never ends; it just becomes more applicable.


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