A man should be upright, not be kept upright. – Marcus Aurelius
What does that mean?
At it’s heart, this quote is about a person and their character. It is a reminder that what we are on the inside is what we are seen as by others on the outside.
The quote is usually interpreted to mean that, in the first section, that an upright person is one who is self-supporting and correct in their actions. This, of course, is based on the rules of the society in which they live.
The second half is the contrast to the first, where a person is not able to keep themselves together and cannot follow the rules of their society. This is a standard definition of a criminal or a miscreant of some form or another.
Taken together, it implies that the proper way to be is to live within the law because that is how you are, not because you are forced to do so under fear of punishment.
Why is proper behavior important?
Societies have rules for a reason. Usually those reasons are to keep internal conflict to a minimum and provide some benefit to the population in general. That, of course, and also rules are frequently used to help maximize the power of the government.
By having rules, and enforcing those rules, a society tends to run a little smoother and a little more efficiently. However, if everyone is pushing the limits all the time, there will be a great deal of friction between the population and the rules.
That doesn’t help make things go smoothly. Whether it was the Free French displaying the Cross of Lorraine during the Nazi occupation, or protest marches in the streets, or strikes, the friction is sometimes the designed and the desired result.
However, for the most part, the more people who are willing and able to remain within the bounds of the rules, the smoother things will go. These individuals also make themselves useful as an example to others that one can live within the system, even when it is not particularly popular.
Where can I apply this in my life?
If you’re like me, you have a few places where you chafe at the rules. You may even find yourself bending a few of them from time to time. That is human. However, the quote asks us to have sufficient self discipline to do better than that.
I have to admit, I have difficulty. I find some rules illogical and counter productive. The less useful and more dysfunctional a rule, the harder it is for me to follow it. That also is human. But again, the quote implies that the proper behavior is to follow the rules.
There is, of course, an alternative. We can work to change the rules. That is often the point of protest marches and strikes. That said, anarchy (the violent kind which has taken over the name) is probably not within the bounds of the quote, right?
Working within the system would be to stay within the form of the quote. Yet many of us do not. We either flaunt the rules with our behavior, or try to circumvent them more secretively. In either case, we are going against the quote.
There are also times when new laws are proposed, and are contrary to popular or societal rules and values. Now what? There is a conflict, and we have the choice of staying within the most limiting of the sets of rules, or choosing to favor one set, while breaking the other.
These are moral decisions, which will have to be determined in a case by case basis, by each individual. Governments tend to add, rather than subtract laws. Over time, it becomes more and more difficult to be obedient to every single law that exists.
Again, each of us will have to determine what they will do. The quote urges us to obey, and implies that working for change from within the system is the proper path. What we do is up to each of us.
Are you one who is upright of their own accord, or are you only upright because the law keeps you so? Does your answer satisfy you, or does it bother you? Why, or why not?
Answering those questions will help you better understand yourself. And it will help you live by choice, and by design, in an examined life.
From: Twitter, @philo_quotes
confirmed at : http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Marcus_Aurelius#Book_III 5th entry
Photo by Peter Dutton
- Quote of the Week – Marcus Aurelius (davidallsopclassics.wordpress.com)
- The man of Jen (zakkadatit.wordpress.com)
- The Biological Basis of Moral Relativism (bigthink.com)
- That First Dishonest Step (lewrockwell.com)
- What Strengthens and Weakens Our Integrity – Part I: Why Small Choices Count (artofmanliness.com)