Wherever Marcus Aurelius would have went, he’d have been greeted with flattery and adulation. Governors, generals, senators and kings would have honored him, and the people would have cheered him. Yet he knew this was empty. As he would write in his journal, this was nothing but the clacking of tongues and meaningless opinion. He would have agreed with Longfellow’s stanza,
“Ah! vainest of all things
Is the gratitude of kings;
The plaudits of the crowd
Are but the clatter of feet
At midnight in the street,
Hollow and restless and loud.”
He wasn’t just a dour man, Marcus was reminding himself of this for a reason. It’s so easy for power to go to your head, to let the collective smacking of hands together say something about you—that you’re special, that they love you, that you’re some kind of God. None of that is true and all those thoughts are dangerous.
Whether we become world leaders or simply have a few employees who need something from us, we must be on guard against the hollowness, restlessness and loudness of vanity and flattery. It will only distract us. It will only make us worse.