Marcus Aurelius

Quick-wittedness is not enough alone.

They’re not going to admire you for your quick wittedness. So be it! Still, there are many other qualities about which you don’t have to say, “I just wasn’t born with it?” So show them those qualities that are entirely up to you: sincerity, dignity, endurance of hardship; not pleasure-seeking, not complaining of your lot, needing little; kindness and generosity; being modest, not chattering idly, but high-minded. Don’t you see how many you could display immediately - having no excuse on account of lack of natural capacity or aptitude - yet you still willingly fall short?

In a world where external validation is often sought, it is the cultivation of our inner virtues that defines our true character and worth. I recall the moment when I penned these words, reflecting upon the nature of admiration and the qualities within our control. In a world where many seek external endorsement, it is crucial to remember that true virtue and character are forged within ourselves. It is with this introspection that I shall expound upon my original thoughts.

Pursuing quick-wittedness and other superficial talents often diverts our attention from cultivating virtues of greater significance. After all, wit can only take you so far. In my musing, I emphasise that there are qualities which we can develop, irrespective of our natural abilities or external circumstances. These are the raw materials that should form the bedrock of our character, and it is upon them that we must tirelessly labour.

Sincerity and dignity, for instance, are not contingent upon birthright, but rather they are the result of conscious choice and deliberate action. When one acts sincerely, they convey their true intentions, unblemished by deceit or pretence. Dignity, on the other hand, is the bearing of oneself with grace and poise, even amidst adversity or spending your time in ways other than you’d wish.

Endurance of hardship and the avoidance of pleasure-seeking are virtues that one may cultivate. To endure hardship is to face life’s challenges with fortitude and resilience without succumbing to despair or self-pity. Shunning hedonistic pursuits is also vital, for they often lead to a life consumed by fleeting pleasures devoid of meaningful purpose.

As Emperor, I am often surrounded by individuals who seek to gain my favour through flattery and displays of cleverness. I recall a particular instance when a courtier regaled the assembly with his witty repartee, aiming to impress and amuse. While he succeeded in capturing the attention of those present and providing entertainment between courses, I observed that he lacked sincerity and humility.

In contrast, I recall another individual, a humble servant who attended to my needs without seeking the limelight. He performed his duties with quiet dignity and unwavering loyalty, demonstrating kindness and generosity in his interactions with others. In times of adversity, he exhibited resilience and fortitude, never complaining of his lot but accepting what fate had bestowed upon him.

As I reflected upon these two individuals, it became clear that the servant, who possessed the virtues of sincerity, dignity, and kindness, truly deserved admiration rather than the courtier, who relied upon his wit and charm. Then, I realised the significance of focusing on developing our inner virtues rather than seeking external validation through superficial talents.

This musing reinforced my belief in the value of cultivating virtues that are within our control. By embodying these qualities, we may rise above our base instincts, foster goodwill and compassion, and ultimately achieve a greater sense of fulfilment and purpose in our lives. Thus, let us strive to be virtuous in thought, word, and deed, and in so doing, elevate our spirits and ennoble our souls.

Should you feel the need to test yourself, consider this suggestion from Meditations:

“A person should accustom himself to think only about those things about which - if someone should suddenly ask “What are you thinking about?” they might answer this and that, frankly and without hesitation.”

Would you share your current thought at all times without hesitation? If you can. . . congratulations. You are among the few who can say so. For the rest of us, further practice in holding only the correct kind of self-talk in our minds is needed. Life will present opportunities to do so. One after the other. For the whole of your short life. You need only the right intentions.

To that end, our interactions with others should focus on kindness and generosity. These are the virtues that foster goodwill and compassion in the human spirit. It is then, and only then, that your quick-wittedness will come to be seen as a positive, becoming the supporting act to your more worthwhile virtues rather than being the main attraction.

To my brethren in Rome and beyond, I urge you to reflect upon the virtues I have elucidated and strive for their embodiment in your daily lives. Consider the words of Epictetus, who advised us to be “diligent in attending to our own ruling faculty.” Let us not seek admiration for fleeting talents or superficial charms but rather for the enduring virtues that shall ennoble our spirits and elevate our souls.

As we embark on this journey of self-improvement, let us be mindful of our thoughts, words, and deeds and commit ourselves to cultivate inner virtues. In the pursuit of wisdom and virtue, may we all find a greater sense of fulfilment and purpose, transcending the limitations of our station and embracing the true essence of our beings.