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Philosophy

People Are Our Proper Occupation

“In a sense, people are our proper occupation,” said the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius in Meditations. “Our job is to do them good and put up with them.”

And yet, it is stressful to keep this in mind in times like these, with so many opinions and so much negativity surrounding everything from the World Series to millennials to, of course, the recent election.

It’s hard work to willfully empathize with the worldview of someone who believes in something on the opposite edge of the spectrum, but alas, this is the lifelong work that we must dutifully commit in order to become more compassionate, generous, kind, and morally sound human beings. The opposite, as we’ve seen, is not a feasible solution for the long run.

Whether we agree or disagree with the leader(s) and systems in place that are responsible for the progress of a city or nation is mere opinion and in a constant state of change; there is hardwiring in there that many of us don’t fully understand. After we celebrate our victories or mourn our losses, all that remains is the work ahead of us. That’s what we’re in control of, and as a collective, that’s where the impact is felt. That’s where change begins.

Marcus Aurelius says,

“But when they [people] obstruct our proper tasks, they become irrelevant to us—like sun, wind, animals. Our actions may be impeded by them, but there can be no impeding our intentions or our dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts its own purposes and the obstacles to our acting.

The impediment to action advances action.

 What stands in the way becomes the way.”

People are our proper occupation, and we must harness and hone the skills that help us coexist; these skills entail empathy, compassion, critical thinking, open-mindedness, generosity, and curiosity. It doesn’t mean you have to agree or disagree; it means in order to elevate your character and become better than what society has settled on requires finding your center of understanding so that there is no feeling of hatred, entitlement, or arrogance, only pure compassion. Realize that if you possessed the opposing person’s worldview stemming from similar life experiences, you might make the same decisions.

Adapting is a birthright of our species. Unman someone and they will find a way to recover and get back to life. People have experienced slavery or the Holocaust, yet they survive, tell the story, and live well. If humans weren’t resilient by nature — if our minds weren’t capable of flipping negatives into positives — then we’d be a doomed species.

It seems as a culture we have lost touch with this superpower and aren’t giving it the appreciation it deserves. Through any adversity or failure, there is mourning, even complaining and thrashing, but we cannot live there because it doesn’t help anyone, not even ourselves. After we tire out, we must use this experience as fuel for our work — to imagine a better future for all, not just for the upset or those who felt like they’ve lost something. We as a culture have so much work to do. We seem so advanced with our technology and social progress, yet so much of our thinking, beliefs, and processes are reverting to the archaic.

People are our proper occupation, and we must channel this understanding in our work to lift others up, not lower them down.

What stands in the way becomes the way.

What stands in the way becomes the way.

What stands in the way becomes the way.

— PAUL JUN