I both like and find frustrating how philosophy boils things down to simple and rather obvious truths. I read the words written by this sage or that one and find myself irritated at not having come to the conclusions on my own. My readings all seem to end with me saying, “of course.”
Yet the simplicity is comforting because “simple” means easier to follow (though perhaps not easy to execute). Who wants a complicated personal philosophy? Experience tells me if the rules are too difficult, the attrition rate is high.
A quote by Marcus Aurelius smacked me in the head just the other day.
“If it’s not right, don’t do it; if it’s not true, don’t say it.” -Marcus Aurelius.
Of course. How utterly basic. How succinct and on point.
I wonder if my life would’ve been different if I’d followed that piece of advice?
The sentiment is clear and doesn’t allow for prevarications and justifications.
Live this way.
After all, it doesn’t say “if it’s not right don’t do it, unless of course, all your friends are doing it, or you think that doing it will make you look cool or make the uncomfortable feelings go away, or if you can get away with it, in which case, go ahead.”
It doesn’t say, “if it’s not true, don’t say it, unless it’s salacious or exciting or you can prop yourself up or it’s the only way to get what you want, or the truth is hard, in which case, go ahead.”
Do what’s right. Speak the truth.
Adhering to that bit of philosophical wisdom would have kept me from some of the troubles I managed to find.
Following this particular epigram doesn’t mean life will be sunshine and roses. The consequences might be negative; doing the right thing can bite you in the ass. Sometimes people don’t want to hear what you have to say. Which can be frustrating and disappointing if you’re not prepared for a less than positive response.
Perhaps a corollary is needed: “and once you act and speak well, let go of expectations regarding reward or response; detach from outcomes.” Do what is right and what is necessary to live a good life. What happens after is out of your control. Other people are not obligated to respond positively. People are not obligated to follow your example.
Philosophical truths tend to the simple and obvious and yet I struggle to retain them with any degree of specificity. I am not, generally speaking, a person who can drag out quotes at the drop of a hat although I remember the gist.
But I remember this one. Even if I remember and follow no other philosophical admonishment, adhering to this will probably see me pleased with my conduct in life as I look back.
It’s not such a bad thing, to strive for honour and truthfulness in what you do and say.
Do you try for honesty and integrity in your words and actions?