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The Heart is a Muscle

Daily Stoic Emails

Marcus Aurelius was an austere and quiet boy. He was focused on books and ideas—not people. He slept on a hard mattress and tested himself physically. He wanted no part of being emperor, preferring instead a life of study and the mind.

But life, as his teacher Fronto would say, forced him to lay down the tunic of a philosopher and put on the cloak of the emperor. Suddenly, he was not just in charge, but responsible for millions of people. Justice wasn’t some abstract notion but his daily imperative. No longer could he be aloof, he had to be empathetic, understanding, patient, fair. Well, actually no, he didn’t have to be those things—certainly many emperors before and after him were not—but greatness demanded it. He wasn’t perfect, but he tried.

Marcus, as he got older, had to learn how to be “full of love” as he would say. He had to see the good in people. He could not let his heart grow hard, as we’ve said, instead, he had to learn to strengthen it like the muscle that it was—so he could use it. That’s what leaders do. They have to care–practically, personally, professionally.

What about you? How are you strengthening that muscle—particularly in these difficult times? Has command or power made you cynical? Or are you working on becoming more conscientious and caring? Not because you have to, but because you know that to be great, to reach your potential as a parent, a partner, a creator, a friend, a human being…

This is what is demanded of you.