Marcus Aurelius was an incredibly lucky man. He was born a Roman and he was born a man in a time where to be anything other than a man or a Roman citizen was a position of extreme powerlessness. He was also born to a wealthy family who provided him the best tutors, tutors who loved him and taught him the philosophy that changed his life. He was then adopted into Antoninus’s family (at the request of Hadrian) to set in motion his ascension to the throne, a gift of enormous power, wealth, and responsibility.
It says in the Bible that to whom much is given, much is required. Marcus took this idea quite seriously. Not only was he not one of those dilettante emperors, he also saw the gifts he had been given as an obligation to do good, to be of service—that it wasn’t about him, but about what he was called to do. So when Rome’s finances were shaky, he sold off imperial treasures to pay down the empire’s debts. When estates were left to him, he could have easily accepted them and increased his family’s wealth while in office, like so many politicians before and since have done. Instead, he found the deceased’s distant relatives and gifted it to them (when his own father died, Marcus passed his rightful inheritance to his sister). We can see in Meditations just how difficult and stressful all this responsibility was on Marcus…yet there was no complaining, no ethical lapses, no regrettable mistakes.
Much was given to him at birth and in life, and he rose to the occasion. He did what was required of him and more.
So today, think about your own good fortune and the gifts you have received—by nature of where you’ve been born (and when), because of who your family is or the success you’ve had. There is no such thing as a free lunch. There are always strings. In this case, you are now obligated. Much is required of you. You are required to be good. To give back. To help others, to sprinkle some of your stardust on other people.