As Long as You Live and While You Can, Become Good Now
“Don’t behave as if you are destined to live forever. What’s fated hangs over you. As long as you live and while you can, become good now.” – MARCUS AURELIUS
What are you reading this blog for?
You won’t get a badge of honor or some other award for learning about Stoicism. Nobody cares what blogs you read or what you know about ancient philosophy.
And you don’t care either because you read it for yourself. Because you want to be the best you can be. Because you want to be able to deal effectively with life’s challenges. Because you want to live a happy and smoothly flowing life.
And that’s what it’s all about. “For philosophy doesn’t consist in outward display,” Musonius Rufus reminds us, “but in taking heed to what is needed and being mindful of it.”
It’s who you are and what you do that matters.
It’s human excellence that makes a human being beautiful, says Epictetus. If you develop qualities such as justice, tranquility, courage, self-discipline, kindness, or patience you will become beautiful.
Nobody can cheat themselves to true beauty.
Good and bad lie in our choices. It’s what we choose to do with the given cards that matters. If you try to be good, if you try your best, the outcome doesn’t matter.
You can get good from yourself. “The fortunate person is the one who gives themselves good fortune,” says Marcus. “And good fortunes are a well-tuned soul, good impulses and good actions.”
Joy comes from your choices, from your deliberately chosen actions. Well-intentioned actions will bring peace of mind. It’s your best chance for happiness.
Do good because it’s the right thing to do. Don’t look for anything in return. Do it for yourself. So you can be the person you want to be.
Don’t be the guy who shouts from the rooftops when done a just act. “Simply move on to the next deed just like the vine produces another bunch of grapes in the right season.” Marcus reminds us to do good for its own sake.
It’s our nature. It’s our job.
It’s childish behavior to tell what good you’ve done. As a child, when I did something that benefitted our whole family, I made sure everybody knew what I’ve done. But my mom? My dad? They did those exact things day in, day out without anyone noticing. We kids took everything for granted. Mostly thankless.
As we ripen, we understand that doing the right thing and helping others is simply what we have to do. It’s our duty as smart, responsible, and mature human beings. Nothing else. It’s just what leaders do—not for the thanks, recognition, or the badge of honor.
“Do now what nature demands of you. Get right to it if that’s in your power. Don’t look around to see if people will know about it.”
As the Roman Emperor, Marcus certainly had more power than we have, and his actions had a bigger impact than yours and mine. Yet, even the most powerful man on earth at that time reminded himself to “be satisfied with even the smallest step forward and regard the outcome as a small thing.”
Let’s take a small step forward whenever possible. What comes from it? It doesn’t matter.
“What is your profession? Being a good [person].”
That’s the simplest job description there is. Which doesn’t mean it’s easy. But if we make it our goal to be good, then I’m positive we can get there. One good deed at a time.
Do good, be good.
This post is an excerpt from my upcoming book The Little Book of Stoicism.