October 1, 2017 - Ancient Stoicism in Plain English
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3. The Marcus Nine: A Stoic Tranquility Exercise

’The Marcus Nine’ is an exercise designed to keep you tranquil under difficult life conditions. This is a handy technique to use when you feel offended by the way someone speaks, acts or if someone behaves in an unacceptable way. This technique was devised by Marcus Aurelius.

What to use it for

Use this technique to put things in perspective and feel free of anger, upset, and other negative feelings. Marcus’ Nine is designed to restore you to a Stoic mindset of freedom and serenity.

How does Marcus’ Nine technique work?

Marcus’ Nine is a set of 4 questions and 5 reminders proposed by Marcus Aurelius. Whenever you feel upset in any social interaction, take time out and go through these nine steps.

Marcus’ Q1. Diffuse hostility.

Ask yourself: What is my relationship to this person? We are all made up of the same atoms or created by a creator. In either case, we are ordered by nature so we can cooperate and serve each other. This means, no matter what, we don’t approach the situation with hostility towards the other person.

Marcus’ Q2. Understand why he/she is upsetting you.

Ask yourself: What compels them to behave in the way they do? What makes them take pride in their behavior? Note that this question does not pre-judge the person, but we simply try to understand the reason for the other person’s behavior.

Marcus’ Q3. Evaluate the situation calmly.

Ask yourself: Are they right? If they are right, we should not feel unhappy about it. If they are wrong, then they are acting out of ignorance. In either case, we don’t have to react immediately.

Marcus’ Q4. Be compassionate.

Ask yourself: Don’t I also do similar things that are wrong? This way you would not judge the other person harshly. Even if you think that you are perfect and consider yourself above doing anything wrong, you are a human being like others. You cannot say you are always above doing anything wrong.

Marcus’ R1. Know that you cannot know the whole picture.

Remind yourself: We cannot even know if the person is wrong because we don’t know the whole context. We don’t know the other person’s life and what events led up to his behaving this way.

Marcus’ R2. Be aware that life’s short. Don’t spend it in vexation.

Remind yourself: Our life is short. The person who you find offensive will soon be dead. So will we. Why spend the short time we have on this earth in vexations and grievances?

Marcus’ R3. Know that other people’s opinions have no power to disgrace you.

Remind yourself: If you choose not to be hurt by somebody’s words or acts, you won’t be hurt. If the other person’s acts are shameful, why should you spend your time brooding over it?

Marcus’ R4.  Know that your anger brings you pain.

Remind yourself: What is hurting you is your anger and vexation about someone else’s behavior. By being angry, you bring pain to yourself long after the event that caused your anger is gone.

Marcus’ R5. Be genuinely good. Don’t fake it.

Remind yourself: You are not genuinely being Stoic if all you do is to smile while being upset by the other people’s actions. It is important to have a genuinely pleasant disposition and not take offense at others’ behavior, even if you would not act that way.

Do not try to tolerate other people’s unacceptable behavior, do not flash a fake smile. Instead, realize that you are not responsible for other people’s behavior; you are free and cannot be harmed by others. Once you know this, you will have fewer and fewer reasons to be upset by others.

In his own words

Remember these nine rules, as if you have received them as a gift from the Muses and begin at last to be a man while you live. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book XI.18.