Earlier last week, a linebacker for the Chicago Bears saw a man choking at a restaurant at the airport in Austin. Jerrell Freeman jumped into action and performed the Heimlich maneuver twice, saving the stranger’s life. On the orders of a village council, Mukhtar Mai was raped by 4 different men in 2002 in Pakistan. Cultural tradition suggested that she should commit suicide in shame or flee her home. Instead, she fought for their prosecution in court, stayed put and used the money she received in compensation to set up a school for young girls. When terrorists wielding machetes burst into the pub that Roy Larner was in, shouting “Islam, Islam!” and “This is for Allah,” he responded by charging them and shouting “Fuck you, I’m Millwall!” giving patrons a chance to flee as he fought them off. There is a photo of August Landmesser standing in the crowd of the coronation of a Nazi warship. Everyone in attendance has their arms raised in salute to Hitler, who stood on the stage not far from Landmesser. Yet Landmesser isn’t saluting. In the years after the photo, he would lose his Jewish wife in concentration camps and die himself in the carnage of the war, but his arms remain crossed in that photo in an act of defiance, refusing to endorse tyranny, while everyone else around him did. As we wrote last week, French philosopher Anne Dufourmantelle, who wrote about the importance of risk in life, died according to her teachings as she attempted to save two children from drowning.
When Marcus Aurelius wrote to himself that there wasn’t anymore time to be spent “arguing what a good man is like” and that he needed to “be one,” these are the kinds of actions he had in mind. This kind of heroism is what philosophy and Stoicism is about. It’s about being a good person, doing what the situation calls for, without concern for one’s safety or this precarious life we have been given. When we made our print around Marcus’s quote, the intention was to be able to prominently display that kind of thinking as a means of inspiration.
Not every situation is going to be as bold or newsworthy as the examples above, but then again, Jerrell Freeman wasn’t thinking about headlines when he saw someone choking on their food—he was just thinking about what kind of help he could offer. Landmesser wasn’t thinking that his act of defiance would be the only legacy he would be allowed to leave in this world—he was just thinking about what kind of man he wanted to be. Use those examples today for all your actions big and small.
No need to talk about what a good person is like, just be one, wherever and whenever you can.
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