One night a few weeks back, I was feeling bored and anxious, or perhaps dissatisfied. I could not think of anything to do and finally decided to watch a movie. My taste in movies, friends say, is weird. I like action-thrillers, preferably the likes of Liam Neeson’s Taken in which a father goes after the bad guys to save his daughter.
That night I chanced upon Acts of Vengence. In the movie, Antonio Banderas plays a man who takes the law into his own hands to bring the killer to the book after his wife and young daughter are taken and brutally murdered one night in a mysterious way.
You may be wondering why I am telling this. Keep reading. I promise you will find out soon.
Devastated by the tragedy, Banderas wanders aimlessly through the dark streets of the city. While wandering he happens upon a copy of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, the millennia-old Roman emperor and philosopher.
“The best revenge is not to be like your enemy,” reads a quote when he first opens the book. He flips through the pages and stops at another quote: “To pursue the impossible is madness: and it is impossible for bad men not to act in character.”
Alright. Enough. I will stop with the spoilers. You should watch the movie to find out what happens next.
The reason for bringing up the movie here is that it introduced me to the book. I was impressed by the depth and wisdom in the quotes. I felt empowered, relieved and curious and wanted to find out more about the philosophy of the man who I had never heard of before.
Out of habit, I wrote down the book’s name in my notebook. Next day in the afternoon, because I woke up late, I rushed to the library to get the book, fearing it may close soon.
With a copy in hands finally and making my way out of the library, I was already reading it. I read it all the way to my apartment, which is half hour walk from Rutgers University where I study for my Ph.D. It might have taken a little more than that because I had to be extra-careful in crossing roads while reading.
I have almost finished reading it. It has been a life-changing experience. I hung some of my favorite quotes from the book in my room as reminders during difficult times. The book before Meditations that saved and changed my life was Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl.
I tell people Frankl’s book is my Bible, Quran and Bhagavad Gita. Marcus Aurelius’ monumental work is no less than it.
I can’t express how much at peace I feel to have found Meditations. I carry it with me in my backpack wherever I go. In my room, I keep it on a chair to the right of my bed. I read a few quotes or pages from it before I go to sleep and before starting my day in the morning or whenever.
The book comprises twelve sub-books which contain the emperor’s musings to himself about life and death, human nature, the universe, pain, power, greed, happiness, sadness, misery, shame, kindness, courage, fear and a host of other topics that concern humans every day.
Here are some powerful quotes from the book which have moved me and will stay with me for as long as I live. I hope you find them inspirational for guiding the journey of your life, too.
“Remove the judgment, and you have removed the thought ‘I am hurt’: remove the thought ‘I am hurt’, and the hurt itself is removed.”
“And… remember that all that lies within the limits of our poor carcass and our little breath is neither yours nor in your power.”
“What does not benefit the hive is no benefit to the bee.”
“Pain is neither unendurable nor unending, as long as you remember its limits and do not exaggerate it in your imagination.” – Epicurus
“But bear in mind that a person’s worth is measured by the worth of what he (or she) values.”
“Today I escaped from all bothering circumstances – or rather I threw them out. They were nothing external, but inside me, just my own judgements.”
“Work. Don’t work as a miserable drudge, or in any expectation of pity or admiration. One aim only: action or inaction as civic abuse demands.”
“The healthy eye must look at all there is to be seen, and not say “I only want pale colours”- this is a symptom of disease. The healthy ear and nose must be ready for all sounds and smells, and the healthy stomach must accept all food in the same way that a mill accepts all it was made to grind. And so the healthy mind too must be ready for all eventualities. The mind which says “my children must live,” or “there must be popular acclaim for all I do,” is the eye demanding pale or the teeth demanding pap.”
“All that happens is an event either within your natural ability to bear it, or not. So if it is an event within that ability, do not complain, but bear it as you were born to. If outside that ability, do not complain either: it will take you away before you have the chance for complaint. Remember, though, that you are by nature born to bear all that your own judgment can decide bearable, or tolerate in action, if you represent it to yourself as benefit or duty.”
“The pride that prides itself on freedom from pride is the hardest of all to bear.”
“So any man with a feeling and deeper insight for the working of the Whole will find some pleasure in almost every aspect of their disposition… he will seek a kind of bloom and fresh beauty in an old woman or an old man.”
“There is nothing that hinders you from doing what must be done.”
“If something is possible for any other man (woman), it is possible for you, too.”
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments about books that have transformed your life.
It is possible that you have read or heard the term “critical thinker.” Some of you may know what it means and some may not. Many young people think being a critical thinker is having the ability to think critically.
But, what does it exactly mean to think critically? John Cotton and Eve Litt offer a concise and straightforward definition in their online course English for Journalism. To be a critical thinker, they say, is to have two qualities: being curious and skeptical. I elaborate them further below.
Curious: It means to be eager to know or learn something. This curiosity can be about a range of issues such as society, politics, science, religion, yourself, etc. Curious people have questions about problems that concern them or have an impact on the larger world in any way. They read, think and try to find accurate answers to their queries. Those who are not curious, are not bothered by issues, and they can’t care less to read a book or a newspaper article. Non-curious people are either lazy, disappointed at the world and extremely busy in earning bread and butter or contended with their “knowledge” of the world.
Skeptical: For a critical thinker, it is not enough to be only curious. He or she has to be skeptical, too. Skeptical comes from skepticism or scepticism, a branch of philosophy that denies the possibility of certain knowledge, and even rational beliefs in some sphere. It means to have doubts and reservations and to be not easily convinced. Being doubtful means verifying the source and objectivity of information or an idea. While reading a report or a news story, for instance, skeptical people look at its originality, completeness, transparency and fairness. They also confirm the authority of a source.
Being curious and skeptical sounds simple but it is not. It requires time, energy, genuine care and consideration about our everyday thought. But, it is worth spending time on learning and analyzing because our views have an impact on people in our neighborhoods and even in countries on other continents.