The Marcus Aurelius Meme

At the start of his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius lists all the good qualities that he has learned, absorbed or inherited from friends and family. I felt it might be in keeping with the true festive spirit to herald all the really important gifts I’ve ever received.


From my father – my polite, conflict-avoidant nature, attention to detail, the desire to master the fields of knowledge that fascinate me, a strong work ethic, my good memory, my love of reading stories.

From my mother – an almost uncanny ability to intuit the moods and feelings of others, generosity of spirit, the capacity to listen properly, the desire to serve those I love with wholehearted enthusiasm, my love of recounting stories.

From my brother – the ability to fight dirty (not much used these days, but who knows that it won’t one day save my life?)

From my husband – the privileging of reason and common sense over freefloating fears, an interest in all sorts of general questions about culture and society, a more stable confidence in myself than I’ve ever had before, that giving people their space is a genuine act of kindness and sympathy. And to trust to life a little; on the whole, things go right more often than they go wrong.

From my son –  the ability to live in the moment and to accept things just as they are, for what they are, the recognition that expediency can be valuable, and that integrity is a necessity, for without it we simply cause ourselves pain.

From my undergraduate French tutor – sympathy for those in the awkward position of having to learn difficult things.

From my undergraduate German tutor – that the only way to be good at what you do is to be really and truly excellent at what you do.

From my PhD supervisor – that generosity and understanding help students far, far more than criticism and censure. To look at a problem always from the perspective of what needs to be done and how best, pragmatically, to do it. And that bad drafts always have the germ of good drafts in them, so nothing learned or written is ever wasted.

From my students – staying young is about being interested in everything.

From various therapists – that there is no cure for life, you can’t perfect it; instead you have to make use of what you’ve got in the moment and often that’s more than enough. That although we may lose access to certain qualities in times of stress, we do possess every nternal resource we need. That I will always be me, no matter what I feel about it, and you know what? That’s okay.

From my friend, Ali – in matters of creativity, you have to stick out for things to be the way you want them to be. Committees dilute and diminish.

From my friend, Kathryn – even dreadful events can be a source of quite fascinating narrative.

From my reiki practitioner – what’s good in my life will always far outweigh the bad, and the good deserves more attention.

From my cat – no matter how mangy, ill-tempered and difficult you are, whilst there’s family around, someone will always take pity and feed you.


22 thoughts on “The Marcus Aurelius Meme

    • It’s nice, isn’t it? The alternative to your good gifts catalogue, which I still think is full of fabulous ideas (and we’ll definitely get something for my mother-in-law from there next Xmas!).

  1. I had the same PhD supervisor as you, and agree wholeheartedly learned from her that it is possible to be incredibly talented and successful in your field and yet remain modest, patient and intellectually generous. And also that black and silver never go out of style 🙂

  2. Lovely meme! I may have to steal. I love the idea that everyone we encounter in our lives is there for a reason – and I think it’s very healthy to spend a bit of time now and again thinking what those reasons might be.

    • I love that idea, Charlotte, that everyone we encounter is there for a reason. I hadn’t quite formulated it like that in my head, but it’s a perfect way to express it.

  3. Lovely post–now this is how the spirit of Christmas should be shared! It sounds as though you have a really wonderful support network and no matter how rough things may get there is always something good to take away from people and experiences. Always a good thing to remember!

    • Danielle – where would we be without our support network? I tend towards too much self-sufficiency, really, and am always glad and grateful when I let friends and family help me out. It’s always encouraging how helpful people want to be.

  4. I am ocasionally surprised that despite the fact that my mother was such a messed up and mean person some of my best character traits come from her.
    Oh the kitty… I learned from him how to speak without words. His soulful silences are a wonderful source of inspiration.
    But since I also have a psycho kitty I learned from her that when you are really loved you even get away with nasty biting.
    I can only agree with charlotteotter.

    • Caroline – I remember reading somewhere that all qualities can be used for good or bad. It all depends on what we do with them. My cat is turning into a bit of a psycho in his old age (particularly around teatime!) although he was very sweet when he was young. Colette was a big believer in the inspiration of cats: she said if you wanted to be a writer you had to have one, as nothing was more conducive to steady work than the companionship of a sleeping cat. I love that.

  5. That’s a great exercise — what a wonderful thing to spend some time thinking about all the gifts people have given you. I find the idea that the good outweighs the bad very comforting.

  6. Pingback: The Marcus Aurelius Meme « Charlotte's Web

  7. Pingback: Appreciate Yourself And What You Have | Self Improvement, Faith, & Confidence.

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