They are all the things Marcus Aurelius said, and more: Dishonest. Arrogant. Envious. Frustrating. Shortsighted. Selfish.
And yet? Other people are not hell, as the expression goes. They are all we have. They are not even “other.” They are us. We are all part of one whole, the Stoics would say.
The rabbi Hillel was once asked to explain the Torah. “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” he said, “all the rest is commentary.”
Love thy neighbor as thyself. Nothing could be more urgent right now, during a pandemic and a global economic crisis. In a time when individual decisions have massive health consequences for other people, no message is more fitting. Why should you wear a mask and wash your hands? Because you love your neighbors. Why should you donate to food banks, pay your taxes, treat the people who work for you (or serve you food or deliver your packages) well? Because you love your neighbors. Why must we rise above these pettifogging political distinctions, this enmity and bitterness and dunking on the other side? Because we love our neighbors—because the other side is made up of our neighbors, it is us.
Everyone we meet is an opportunity for kindness, Seneca said. The fruit of this life is acts for the common good, Marcus said. That’s all that matters.
Everything else is commentary or less.
We think that every leader and citizen should think deeply about this idea of sympatheia. We were made for each other and to serve a common good, as Marcus put it. That’s why we made our Sympatheia challenge coin, which can serve as a practical, tangible reminder of the causes and the larger whole we are all members of. You can check it out in the Daily Stoic store.