Marcus Aurelius begins book two of his Meditations with the following advice to himself, one that had first come to his mind when beginning his journals:
When you wake up, say to yourself- Today I shall encounter meddling, ingratitude, violence, cunning, jealousy, self-seeking; all of them the result of men not knowing what is good and what is evil.
One would think that Marcus Aurelius presents a damning portrait of humanity, filled with depravity and baseness. However Marcus’s conclusion is most enlightened. He acknowledges that no one in fact wants to consciously harm him, but that harm results from individuals’ ignorance of good and bad. Giving people the benefit of the doubt ( at least when it comes to intentions) means that Marcus will bear no grudges and be forgiving of those who unwittingly inflict harm. This way he will save himself from despising others and consequently inflicting self-harm as well. Forgiving others’ behaviors enables Marcus to remain above the fray, untouched by the drama of others’ lives. He brings to mind Lucius Seneca’s observation that “All cruelty springs from weakness.”
One may be tempted to write off his observation as naïveté. However, Marcus takes his analysis a step further, explaining that his views are based on the idea of Oneness . He fundamentally didn’t see himself as separate or better than others. He uses the human body as a metaphor for Society, saying we are made for cooperation, like the eyes are to the hands. Marcus explains that he and his brother are “ in the same partnership with the divine.” And that is why he can’t quarrel with his brother.
Marcus fundamentally understood that trying to correct and coerce others into behaving differently is self-defeating and a scenario for mutual unhappiness. He advised letting go other’s transgressions and instead focusing on our own reactions and thought processes. Echoing the Socratic Paradox he writes: “Another’s error, let it lie…If he did wrong, with him lies the evil… Find fault with none.”