Marcus Aurelius: On Humility and Duty

We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has borne.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book Five

In this day and age it is far too easy to become addicted to our ego. Through the internet and social media, we long for instant gratification and praise. Consequently, we become consumed by the notifications, the ‘likes’, and the comments as we continually search for validation. We are inclined to boast our feats, our good deeds and accomplishments to others. However, through this, we lose perspective of the original intentions of our actions.

The Stoics looked to nature and assessed how the world natural operates to understand how humans should act. It follows from this that humans are rational and social animals. As human beings, we flourish through our collective efforts in society not in isolation. In fact, the degree in which we are able to cooperate and collaborate to build complex and sophisticated civilizations is uniquely human. This trait sets us apart from other species.

In this quote Marcus Aurelius recommends that we perform good actions not for the sake of praise or adoration, but for there own sake. Selflessly working towards improving the lives of others is what being a human living in a society requires of us. It is in our nature, just as it is in the nature of a bee to make honey or a vine to produce grapes. Therefore, we must not demand recognition or compensation for our good deeds or seek external validation.

In his book The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw profiles the lives of World War II Veterans who sacrificed their lives in pursuit of freedom. These soldiers were not motivated by fame or acclaim, but rather fought because it was ‘the right thing to do’. They performed their duty to their country and to their fellow citizens with honour and humility, not with pride.   

Humility is not a sign of weakness but rather a virtue. It demands that an individual be honest about their own abilities. Furthermore, it requires one to be content with their own self-worth and refrain from comparing themselves to others.   

Follow Marcus Aurelius’ advice and do what is expected from you, not because you will profit form it, but rather because it is the right thing to do.