Marcus on Mondays: Meditation 9:17

For the thrown stone, there is no more evil in falling than there is good in rising.

Obligatory Introduction: This is going to be part of a series where I write about my thoughts and impressions about excerpts from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. My original plan was to use the Project Gutenbergupload, and I am still using it as a secondary source. The  reason why I am not using it as a primary source is because the more modern translation is not encumbered by all the thee-ing and thou-ing and complicated grammar of the uploaded translation. The primary source I’m using was translated by Michael Staniwith.

My general feeling about Mediations is that it is a great book full of lots of interesting advice and random ponderings. (Most of which are thoughtful, interesting, and I think, even a little snarky and funny sometimes.) My slightly more silly feeling is that the emperor literally wrote a self-help book. (I say literally, because he wrote all these little notes, apparently to himself while engaged in doing other things.)

The first meditation is a short one! The Gutenberg uploaded edition:  To the stone that is cast up, when it comes down it is no hurt unto it; as neither benefit, when it doth ascend.

A stone does not care if it is rising or falling when it is thrown. It also does not really care about whether it lands on the ground, collides with a wall and bounces off, or breaks a window. If you want to break it down still further, you could say, “stuff happens and whether it is good or bad is subjective.” You could also probably suggest Aurelius is stating that there is no such thing as a bad or good occurrence, but I do not really agree with that line of thinking.

What is a subjectively good or bad thing? Losing your job is definitely a bad thing, but it might also be a good thing if you manage to find a better one. (It would of course continue to be a bad thing if you were not able to find a new job or some other terrible thing happened at the same time.) The only difference between them was that in one case, you found a job, and in the other case, you did not find a job. Losing your job is the thrown rock, getting a new one is the rock landing on the ground and continuing to not have a job is the rock going through the window.

So, let us say that the action of the rock going through the air is not intentionally good or evil. There is no malice behind the rock taking flight and there is no benefice in where the rock comes down. We could also say that there is no one actually throwing the rock. The rock has just taken flight because another rock knocked into that was kicked by some passerby. It is a purely random thing that happened to happen. There is no intent in what happened, and because there was no intent, the end result is neither the result of malice nor benefice. The Universe does not care! Things happen randomly!

This is not a particularly comfortable idea for most people to have! As a general rule, people tend to want to believe that things that happens have a purpose. There has to be a pattern, there has to be someone (or Someone) out there pulling the strings and playing with the probabilities. But the message we get here is that stuff happens. Stuff happens and it is not your fault, it is not the rock’s fault and it is not the fault of the random person who kicked the rock that set off the landslide.

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