Marcus Aurelius was strict with himself. He slept on a hard mattress. He didn’t drink or eat to excess. He didn’t have affairs or lose his temper. Cato was strict with himself too. He didn’t wear fancy clothes or live a life of ease.
But what’s remarkable about both these men, given this strictness, is the love and affection they both had for their brothers–who had very different approaches to life. Cato’s brother wore nice clothes and fine perfumes. Marcus Aurelius’ stepbrother liked to party. Yet Marcus wrote in Meditations how much Lucius Verus enriched his life, and helped Marcus improve his own character. Cato was overcome with grief when he lost his brother.
Their strictness, it was said, was limited only to themselves. As it should be. That’s why it’s called self discipline after all.
Gandhi was notoriously strict with himself also. He subsisted on next to nothing. He did not drink alcohol or basically anything but water. He thought others should follow his example. But he thought it perfectly fine that his wife disagreed. “Kasturba takes tea in spite of the fact that she lives with me. She also takes coffee,” Gandhi once told a biographer. But the most beautiful part was what he added after that: “I would even lovingly prepare it for her.”
A Stoic is not a scold. Nor are they a tyrant. We are strict with ourselves, tolerant with others. Our discipline is our discipline, as it should be. Our own struggles should keep us busy enough that we shouldn’t even consider getting up in other people’s business to fix theirs. Instead let’s meet others where they are, accept and love them as they are. Because anything else is outside our control.