It is not fit that I should give myself pain, for I have never intentionally given pain even to another. – Marcus Aurelius
What does that mean?
Inflicting pain on others. The vast majority of us do not do inflict pain on others deliberately. In the heat of passion, perhaps we might. But then we apologize, right?
Coming from a professional warrior and Roman Emperor, that may seem an odd thing for him to say. To me, it just means he separated his duty to country from what he considered to be his duty.
To me, the important application to us in today’s world is that we do our best to keep from intentionally hurting others. Most of us do that well enough. Which brings us to the other half of the quote.
We must also not inflict pain on ourselves. That can be mental anguish, beating ourselves up for something we once did. It could be doing things we know are wrong, but do it anyway. We must forgive and be kind to ourselves.
Why is not inflicting pain important?
Sorry to answer a question with another question, but shouldn’t that be self-evident? There are rare instances when something has to be stopped right this instant, and there are no other alternatives, but those situations are rare. The rest of the time, why would one want to inflict pain on yourself or on another?
Perhaps it would help to consider the times when we tend to inflict pain. At least in my experience, both from giving and receiving, that it usually starts with a perceived pain or injury from another person, group, or institution. It seems to usually boil down to ‘you hurt me, so now I will hurt you back.’
Sometimes the intent was to cause you pain, but often it was incidental. They did something which reminded you of a time when something similar was done or said with intent to inflict pain, and so this must be intentional as well, right? So you return pain for pain, even if it wasn’t intended in the first place.
The question is how does one stop such a cycle once it has started? The simplest way is to never start in the first place. That isn’t easy, but it’s the truth, isn’t it? Unless you really like to apologize, that is. How do you do that? Read on…
Where can I apply this in my life?
Just as happiness is a choice, so is anger and its little brother, upset. If you make a habit of getting angry, it will become something you do easily. The same goes for being offended or being upset by the words or actions of others. You make that decision and you take action. And the cycle continues, right?
While some words or deeds can be more difficult than others to ignore, it can be done with practice and effort. As with any new skill, you will probably want to start with smaller things, and with noticing the opportunity to practice. That involves breaking the stimulus/response pattern, right Pavlov?
Consider what other reasons could exist for them to do or say what they did. I started in traffic. Did that person cut me off because they were a jerk, or were they late for an important meeting? Perhaps they didn’t see me, or perhaps a few blocks back, I failed to see them, and this is their response.
Yes, you’re making excuses for them. That’s fine. You probably won’t ever meet them, unless you have an accident trying to get ‘even’ with them, right? What about the guy at work who just took credit for your idea? Perhaps he was told if he didn’t do something soon, he’d be fired, and needed to provide for his family?
Even if they deliberately inflicted pain on you, are you going to sink to their level and ‘get even’, that is to say get even lower? Or can you take the high road, and ask what was going on, or gently mention that you don’t expect that to happen again? Or do you have to hit back just as hard?
In short, your response becomes a measure of who you are and what you stand for. It is a test of your character. Consider forgiving them and being kind to them. You don’t know how badly their day has gone, right?
And the test of your character goes double for how you treat yourself. How do you treat yourself when you forget to do something important, like a birthday or an anniversary? While the other person may take some time to forgive you, how you treat yourself is just as important.
Holding on to anger, pain or other negative emotions may be part of a short-term process, but if you hold on to it too long, it becomes damaging. What you continue to think and do will become normal for you. Becoming someone who lives in anger or pain doesn’t sound like fun. Let it go and move on.
What are you going to do to reduce the pain or anger in your life, and the lives of others?