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Pity Is More Appropriate Than Anger

Daily Stoic Emails

At the beginning of Meditations, Marcus Aurelius laments the kind of people he’s going to meet each day—the bitter, the stupid, the jealous, the petty. Throughout the book he mentions other undesirables—the shameless, the evil, the greedy, the ignorant, the manipulative. Today, we could add still others—anti-vaxxers, racists, polluters, rage profiteers, reality television stars, trolls and on and on.

These people are frustrating. They make the world less safe, less productive, less collaborative. They poison the common good. They destroy any semblance of common understanding or commonality, period.

But instead of getting angry at them, try pity first. As we’ve said before, these people aren’t actually having a good time. Nor, in most cases, are they avoiding the consequences of their own actions (in some cases, they suffer most). You know this is true, even if it doesn’t always seem so obvious. After all, you could be like them if you wanted…and yet, you choose not to be.

Why? Because it’s a horrible, shameful way to live. Virtue isn’t just some arbitrary, purposeless standard foisted upon us from on high. No, according to the Stoics, virtue in all its forms is essential to happiness, to security, to tranquility and to meaning. These people who frustrate us are cut off from that. They have been led astray. Or they have chosen to go astray.

And that is something to pity.