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    When It Comes To Family, We Have To Be Kind

    Daily Stoic Emails

    Marcus Aurelius’s step brother Lucius Verus was hardly a great man. Unlike Marcus, he was not as driven or as a smart. He was not always so diligent in his responsibilities. We hear that he liked to party. But still, Marcus loved his step-brother and not only found a role for him leading the troops, he celebrated his accomplishments as well, sometimes at the expense of his own. Would Marcus have treated his other generals so generously? Doubtful. 

    In Rome it was said that “not all men could be Catos” and that included Cato’s own brother, Caepio. Caepio was more Stoic than Lucius Verus, but he also loved luxury, at least compared to his brother. Did it bother Cato that his brother wore perfume? Would he have judged other men harshly for doing the same thing? Probably. 

    But as Bruce Springsteen put it in one of his greatest songs—“when it’s your brother, sometimes you look the other way.” Is this Stoic? To hold people you love to different standards? To let them get away with things you wouldn’t do yourself? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s also life. 

    In Epictetus’s famous metaphor that “everything has two handles,” one which will hold weight and the other which will not, he actually references this exact kind of situation. You can choose to grab hold of the fact that something wrong has been done to you, or you can choose to grab hold of the fact that it was done by your brother, someone you were raised with, someone who loves you and has a good heart. Which one of those is a better handle? (Obviously the Stoics would not intend you to stay in a truly dangerous situation. And the family you choose can be just as important as the one you were born with.)

    Marcus Aurelius and Cato could have looked down on their brothers. Instead, they loved them. When Cato’s brother died, he told a friend he’d rather part with his life than his brother’s ashes. And they were willing to look away not just for brothers, but with all the people they lived with and were related to—regardless of the transgression. Marcus did this with his wife, who was rumored to be unfaithful, and of course with his son, who clearly went astray. Cato did this with his sister who had a torrid affair with Julius Caesar, his worst enemy. 

    We must be kind to our family. We must forgive. Because they are all we have. Like us, they are not perfect. Not by a long shot. In fact, they might be obnoxious or deeply flawed. But they are our blood. We share a past. If we want to share a future, we need to see what is good in them and encourage that. Up to a point of course, but now, let’s grab the kindness handle, the forgiveness handle. 

    Look for it, look for love…then look away.

    P.S. This was originally sent on January 17, 2019. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.