In an age when “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Marcus rose above those temptations and was a model of Stoic virtue and principles. He has been referred to as one of the five great Emperors of Rome. Had he wished to be a tyrant, no one could have stopped him. Stoicism gave him the values that allowed him to act in the best interest of Rome.
In Book I of Meditations, Marcus Aurelius pays tribute to his role models and mentors, describing those character traits he admired in them or aspired to himself.
Below are just SOME of key components of stoic character, notwithstanding the quintessential virtues of wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance.
The following value statements (referenced in Book I) are representative of character traits that Marcus saw in his contemporaries and adopted for himself.
Political, Social and Personal Traits
To be intentional and vigilant in the governance of public affairs and affairs of state. To promote projects for the public good. To apply detailed and rigorous inquiry, then do whatever needs to be done without haste, sloth or ostentation. To exercise foresight and act where the need is real, not just popular. To be frugal when dipping into the public purse. To maintain an unwavering loyalty to decisions taken and an unshakeable composure during times of stress. To seek counsel, respect expert advice and reward merit. To seek self-mastery and be self-reliant. To accept tribute without obligation. To shun flattery. To suppress anger. To cherish hard work. To refute evil thoughts and actions.
To acknowledge the concept of equality and freedom of speech while being aware of the danger of power and privilege.
To exercise reason and seek understanding. To be impartial and open to criticism. To fuse passionate resolve with a cheerful, friendly disposition. To harmonize a severity of character with an infectious charm. To be bluntly honest and outgoing. To be forgiving of anyone who has caused offence. To reclaim the affections of those that are angry. To gently coach/correct other’s communications by expressing agreement and encouraging them to continue. To make others feel comfortable in your company. To make time for others whenever possible. To be considerate of the personal affairs of others. To express concern for friends and patience for the misinformed.
To seek knowledge and share it without swagger. To read for detail and write for simplicity. To live modestly, without pomposity. To avoid fancy speech and lavish attire, outside of the public sphere. To curtail desires and shun trivialities. To harden the body and resolve. To identify frailties and correct deficiencies. To ignore gossip. To be honest and outgoing. To be modest in dealing with others. To avoid using work as an excuse to dodge family and social obligations. To relish companionship. To be generous with praise, without exaggeration. To resist making excessive demands on friends.
Choose your mentors wisely
Look for mentors that display intellectual integrity and moral courage; are fair and respectful of their neighbours, co-workers and community at large; seek to build better communities and relationships; and think things through before acting.
For yourself: build and exercise some aspect of your stoic character each day. See Stoic Exercises in the main menu.