A man should be upright, not be kept upright.

A man should be upright, not be kept upright.Marcus Aurelius

My car idles faster than this. I walk nearly twice this fast. How stupid is that? How many people obey a sign like this?

My car idles faster than this. In a hurry, I walk nearly twice this fast. How stupid is that? How many people obey a sign like this? Would you? Could you?

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


About philosiblog

I am a thinker, who is spending some time examining those short twitter quotes in greater detail on my blog.
This entry was posted in advice, belief, decision, integrity, setting an example, value and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A man should be upright, not be kept upright.

  1. Taddea says:

    Good article. Self-examination is a difficult process, but a necessary one for achieving any sort of peace. To thine own self be true.

    Judging things on a case by case basis is kind of what struck me, and while I agree that we can either choose to be moral, or not, as the case may be, I wonder where the basis for our morality should come from. Is it “right” to base our morality on the values of the society you were brought up with? Going with the group is usually the easier thing to do, and there may be a basis for laws that is solid reasoning, but who determines if what your society thinks is moral is actually moral?

    Is there an objective way to view morality without basing it on societal norms? To give a fairly mundane example, what if it turns out that removing speed limits would actually make highways safer? For whatever reason, society(or at the very least, the people in charge of making the laws for society) says that you can only go so fast, but if they’re wrong, and continue to enforce it anyway because that’s what this society does, is that truly moral?

    If the quote is saying that one should be moral for morality’s sake, but then is given rules and laws as well, how can they be sure they are being moral for morality’s sake when there are societal influences? What if society’s rules are causing someone to not act morally? We say to go with our conscience, but what if our conscience isn’t right?

    • philosiblog says:

      Excellent questions.

      We have to start somewhere, and to me, that’s the job of the home and the community. As teens and young adults, we begin to consider other options and broaden our viewpoints. From that point on, we are in charge of our moral destiny. We write our own rules, and choose when to obey and when to break them.

      What is or isn’t moral changes with view and with time. Until about a century ago, most societies were very strictly patriarchal. Now, in most industrialized countries, women are equal. In the past, slavery was widely accepted, not so in the present day.

      Actually, there are very good arguments for removing speed limits in certain areas. It is done in many European countries, and perhaps in other parts of the world. There is a great deal of information that shows setting speed limits below average is going to make accidents, injuries, and deaths more common. That aside, my position is the law is the law, until it is changed. We can always choose to violate the law, but we must be prepared to bear the cost if we are caught.

      As for trying to find an objective way, there are entire schools of philosophy regarding what is or is not real, and what our observations are worth. That aside, who decides on the “universal” truths? Isn’t that just another ‘societal norm’ only agreed on by a different group of people? Do you see how circular some of these paths become?

      As for laws causing people to behave immorally, there are places where prostitution is legal and others where it is not. There are times when taking a life is permitted and times when it is not. In some places, the day of the week determines if you can purchase alcohol, and in some places, it is forbidden. How does one navigate such a legal and moral minefield? My only advice is to use your conscience. It isn’t fool proof, and if you violate the law, you are subject to punishment by the legal system. If you violate your moral principals, you suffer as well.

      There are no easy answers. That is one of the many reasons why philosophy is hard, and I try to stick to the practical applications thereof.

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I hope you took a look at the rest of the site. Plenty to see. 8)

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