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You’ll Never Get Your Pound of Flesh

Daily Stoic Emails

They screwed you over. Hurt your career. They disrespected you. They blew it. They did… whatever. 

Now, you want your revenge. You want them to suffer as you suffered. You want them to know, to feel, the same thing that you’re feeling. The Stoics talk about justice, so that’s OK, right? They shouldn’t be able to get away with this!

Remember: in 175 CE Marcus Aurelius was betrayed by his most trusted general, Avidius Cassius, in an attempted coup. Marcus could have been angry. He could have demanded all the sadistic revenge possible to a man of his unlimited power. Yet we know from the historians that he handled even this moment with grace and understanding. In fact, he wept when he was deprived of the chance to grant clemency to his former enemy. 

“The best revenge,” Marcus would write in Meditations, “is to not be like that.” When he found himself getting pissed off by something someone had done, he urged himself to think about the wrong that he had done to others. He tried to practice forgiveness, or when that was beyond him, at least indifference or tolerance. 

We have to accept that we cannot get even. That it’s an extra injury to ourselves to lower ourselves to the kind of cruelty, or stupidity of our opponents. They may steal from us… but we ought not steal time from ourselves stewing about them, or worse. There is no pound of flesh that will make us feel better. Only we can make ourselves feel good again—by focusing on what we have to be grateful for, by being good to others, by moving on. 

The story of Marcus Aurelius holds lessons for all of us about the importance of living a virtuous life—and that’s the story we tell in The Boy Who Would Be King. Get your copy this week for a unique audiobook with several different narrators, bonus material, and more (and it’s now available on Audible as well). Signed copies are available as well. Get your copy here.

P.S. This was originally sent on March 11, 2021. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.