How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks. – Marcus Aurelius
What does that mean?
This is a shorter, Twiter-friendly version of a passage from his book Meditations regarding time, and the efficient use thereof. The more complete quote is listed below:
“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.”
This quote is about minding our own business, and doing what we think is right. It is about doing what is congruent within ourselves, and not worrying what others think.
It asks us how much time have we lost wondering or worrying what others say, do, or think? It reminds us to focus on doing what we think is proper, and doing that above all else.
Why is doing what we think is right important?
This is an interesting question. Consider your time in school. Do you recall the groups of people who always had to be trendy, or who looked down on those who were not dressing, behaving, or speaking as they do? Do you remember how much time some of them spent to get just the right look or the right sound?
That is what this quote is advising us against, by pointing out how much time you save by not trying to conform to whatever the style of the day might be. Instead, the quote asks us to focus on what is inside ourselves, our own values, our own inner compass, and using that to guide our words, our deeds and our thoughts.
If we simply go with what the others are doing, who are we exactly? Aren’t we just another face in the crowd? Yes, we might be making a statement and pushing against something we don’t like, but are we our own person, or are we under the influence of the crowd? How do you think protests turn into riots?
By consulting our own inner compass, we can decide what we should do based on what we believe to be the correct path, rather than being swept away by the crowd. It also helps us maintain our composure in the face of smaller pressures, like the stereotypical nosy old lady, who wants to tell you how wrong you are for … (fill in the blank).
Where can I apply this in my life?
Society, while usually a steady influence, has changed rapidly lately. Just in my lifetime, we have gone from paddles (and paddling) in school to a zero tolerance for images or language of violence in school. The pendulum is always swinging, and will swing back to some extent in the future.
At one extreme is the fashion industry. How many people make their livelihood from discussing who wore what to the latest party? That implies that there are people willing to consume such information. While some do it for amusement, others use it to determine what they must wear (or not wear) to the next party or event.
Please note that the quote doesn’t say these people are evil or even misguided. It just says that they are spending a great deal of time worrying about things related to the outside (what others say, do or think) which could be better spent considering what their inner self might have to say.
Take a moment to consider how much time you spend wondering what others do, or say or think about you? Yes, that includes loved ones and friends. Again, it isn’t wrong, just a question of how much time you spend doing it, and whether it is the best way for you to spend your time, as there never seems to be enough of it.
For me, this has always been an easy thing, as I never really cared too much about other people. I’m not anti-social, but a-social (for those who recognize prefixes and their meanings). As an example, I drive a station wagon, not a fancy or sporty car (although it has beaten many sports cars on various race courses – it isn’t anywhere near stock).
I wear what I find comfortable, even if it gets funny looks from others. Yes, sometimes I pick what I wear to annoy others. I’m making the point of the quote for others, specifically those who care what I’m wearing. But that’s just part of my contrarian nature. It’s not for everyone.
The point is we should say, do or think what we believe is correct and proper in the situation. If you feel work isn’t right without a suit and a tie, then by all means wear it proudly. Just understand that I believe differently, and will likely be in jeans and toe shoes. That’s just how I roll.
Life will be full of nervous worry and regret if we spend it trying to please or conform to what others expect. Much time and energy (physical and emotional) will be lost trying to conform. Instead, consider using that time and energy to do what you think is most appropriate or proper.
It’s your life, how will you live it? Will you do what you have considered and determined to be appropriate and proper or will you take your guidance from the whims of others?