For several weeks now, I have been thinking of this quote from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, and I’ve been meaning to find it so that I could blog about it, but I either haven’t had time or, when I did have time, I just couldn’t find it.
During my first reading of Meditations (now a few years ago), I used some scrap paper to jot down some notes regarding noteworthy passages. For some of these, I copied out the passage (if it was short), and for some I simply noted the book and chapter numbers. I kept these scraps of paper as reminders — some within the pages of Meditations, and the rest on my bedside table. I had hoped that the quote I was thinking of would be on one of these but, alas, no luck.
But, no matter, I thought, there is a helpful index in the back of the copy I own, which can be used to find passages relating to various subject matter and concepts, so I tried this next. I pondered over words that might lead me to the passage, but these either did not take me to where I wanted to go, or they did not exist in the index.
As a last resort — or perhaps just a despairing effort — I flipped through to random pages, hoping to find it by pure luck or coincidence. (Keep in mind that I didn’t do all this searching in one day; it was spread over several weeks, whenever I thought of it and had time.) Unsurprisingly, this tactic proved fruitless too.
Last night, however, I was really determined to find it. I was so determined that I resolved to go through each entry in the index that was even remotely relevant, starting with A and working through the entire index to Z.
And so, of course, at the start of the index, a few entries down, I find the word “advice”, and I immediately jump on that because I think that might be related. This took me on a little trail from that to an editor’s note about a passage in Book 4, to a few other passages, and then I ended up, at last, in Book 6, where I found what I was looking for:
If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one’s own self-deception and ignorance.
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 6, Chapter 21
And you know what’s the most dastardly thing about all this? It was on the very same page as the last quote I blogged about!
Anyway, we’ll move on from that now, since the quote is found, and it is here for everyone to read.
I think there are a few reasons why I’ve had this quote on my mind in recent times. First is that my partner (with whom I joke about being opposites, although we are similar in many ways) will sometimes point out different ways of doing things. And although I may pause or frown or pout or put up any sort of counter-argument, I really do appreciate new perspectives and advice.
The second reason is that, even though I’ve been a manager for over a year now, I still have moments of doubt about my capabilities and suitability for the role. This, however, isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it pushes me to get better at what I do. Part of this improvement process, I believe, is taking on the feedback of others (or seeking it because not many people openly give feedback to their own manager).
If I make mistakes at work, and someone else picks it up, I like to know what it is so that I can find a way to avoid repeating it. I also like encouraging people to give suggestions and come up with ideas for improving various things around the workplace. It doesn’t always have to be me calling the shots. In fact, it often isn’t me unless it’s something critical that no one else wants to make the call on, but I guess that comes with the job.
The final but probably most important reason is that I think life is a continual learning process. I keep this quote from Seneca on my bedside table:
As long as you live, keep learning how to live.
— Lucius Annaeus Seneca
It is hard to learn solely from oneself because there is so much to learn. It’s like that bit of advice I heard somewhere once (from who knows where or who) about learning from other people’s mistakes because life’s too short to make them all yourself.
Well, actually, there is another reason this Meditations passage has been on my mind, and it’s the impression that some people are seemingly unreceptive to advice. It seems that some people’s reflexive reaction to advice (which may be perceived as criticism) is to rebuke, dismiss or ignore it. There’s a notion of “I know what I’m doing / I don’t want to be challenged / I don’t want to change”.
I cannot tell you the number of times that I’ve been to a public toilet, and noticed that other people are not washing their hands for anywhere near the recommended 30-second minimum. I would’ve thought it was common knowledge by now.
Anyway, that’s a matter for another post (or not), but the point is that I think it’s important to be open to learning, and to continue learning. I don’t mind being told I’m wrong or not doing something in the best way. It is far better to learn from others than to blindly follow one’s own path.