To what must we aspire, and why?

Well, Marc has done it again. Talking along, making all sort of sense – even wisdom (but don’t tell him I said so) – and then completely losing me as he finishes:

Expressions that were once current have gone out of use nowadays. Names, too, that were formerly household words are virtually archaisms today; Camillus, Caeso, Volesus, Dentatus; or a little later, Scipio and Cato; Augustus too, and even Hadrian and Antoninus. All things fade into the storied past, and in a little while are shrouded in oblivion. Even to men whose lives were a blaze of glory this comes to pass; as for the rest, the breath is hardly out of them before, in Homer’s words, they are ‘lost to sight alike and hearsay’. What, after all, is immortal fame? An empty, hollow thing. To what, then, must we aspire? This, and this alone: the just thought, the unselfish act, the tongue that utters no falsehood, the temper that greets each passing event as something predestined, expected, and emanating from the One source and origin. (Meditations, book 4, paragraph 33)

Okay, I understand that the whole “One source” bit is consistent with the rest – he’s not doing a U-turn at the end. But it’s unnecessary. Yes, fame and recognition are fleeting. Yes, living for eternal glory is a futile pursuit. Yes, it is enough to aspire to think clearly, do good, and speak truth. And an even temper is certainly something worth cultivating.

But my even temper is not based on a belief in predestiny, in all things coming from a common source. It is simply based on the observation that level-headedness is the most powerful frame of mind from which to advance my understanding and improve my lot and that of my fellow humans.

Anyway, I continue to enjoy my discourse with Marc. We usually agree, and even when we don’t we have some fun exploring why not. (I don’t think that I’ve ever changed his mind, but that’s not the point.)

Postscript: I have discussed this with Darren, the mutual acquaintance who introduced me to Marc. Darren has spent more time with Marc and his crowd, and was able to cast the “one source” stuff in a light that I find easier to get on board with. I hope to discuss this (or perhaps invite Darren to tell you himself) in the not-too-distant future.




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