Rules and freedom
“The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
For most of my adult life, I have had a strong sense of being a Roman matron living at the end of Empire, with a presentiment that things were about to change massively and in ways, I cannot control.
Occasionally this has given rise to a sense of disorientation, even fear, and I have learned to calm myself and my thoughts, by focusing on the words of great thinkers who have gone before.
The Stoic Emperor as he is often referred to, rose from a fairly low station in Roman life to become a great and loved Emperor. If you have watched Gladiator, it is his death that sets the scene for the movie.
Stoicism rose in the world as a philosophy around the same time as Zen Buddhism and the two have many precepts in common. For example, focusing on governing oneself and one’s responses to circumstances, rather than blaming the world and its ways for our woes. This is not the obvious predominant philosophy of our times, where each action, small or large, is likely to be followed with a claque of critics looking for someone to blame.
Much has been written about the blame culture and its stifling effect on innovation and along with a tendency towards too much bureaucracy they are both blamed for many things that hold us back today.
Like so many entrepreneurs, I am not a natural fan of rules. For some, the idea of having ‘mindless’ rules imposed on us is almost too much to bear and it is a common belief that freedom and self-reliance are the bedrock of success and that conformity and blaming are the foundations of failure.
Rules and Freedom
I recently shared the quote above from the Emperor – having contemplated it for a while, I thought it was an interesting and useful thought for the day, and so posted it on Facebook. Within minutes a friend was saying the rules were inappropriate and should not be imposed upon people and then set off to make special pleas for people with mental health problems who would automatically be deemed to be failures if such a rule were to be applied to them.
It is interesting how differently we view the same thing. I thought the Emperor was sharing a rule he had made for himself that had kept him going through troubled times (and quite a few military setbacks!).
I saw this, as a rule, he chose to live by.
My friend saw the quote as an imposition – an attempt to set a standard against which he, or his friends, could be measured and would inevitably fail. For me, freedom from being thrown from pillar to post by random emotions created by propaganda, or the deep feelings of my friends and family, stem from having internal processes that allow me to try to reach beyond the emotion and respond from a different place. I have not sought to impose such a process on anyone else nor made it a requirement for those I love (nor did the Emperor who expressed great compassion for those who could not govern their own feelings).
Yet my friend could only see rules as something someone might impose upon him.
How different would the world be today if each of us chose a few simple rules to live by, and to calm ourselves with before reaching for the gun or the sword or the send button on Twitter? Are we fated to be beyond rules, beyond manners and beyond words, to live in a post-modernist mish-mash of outrage and emotion?
What rules do you live by?