What kicked of this blog was an interesting podcast from Wharton Business School: Life Hacks from Marcus Aurelius: How Stoicism Can Help Us
The podcast features author and psychotherapist Donald Robertson discussing his new book How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius. For most of us our first contact with Marcus Aurelius would have been in the film Gladiator starting Russell Crowe as General Maximus Decimus Meridius. At the beginning of the film Emperor Marcus Aurelius tells Maximus that his own son, Commodus, is unfit to rule, and that he wishes Maximus to succeed him, as regent, to help save Rome (Italy) from corruption. Commodus, upon hearing this, murders his father and becomes emperor. The rest of the film is a battle between him and Maximus.
Marcus Aurelias is regarded by historians as the one emperor who’s a truly good human being. He was a philosopher and left us his Meditations. It is rare in history that we can see inside the mind of a leader and that a leader speaks to us in such an elevated manner. My problem has always been if he is so good, how could he produce such a terrible son? Now having read Robertson’s book I understand. Marcus sired 13 children; unfortunately, only four daughters (of 8) and one son survived. Is it any surprise that Commodus became the epitome of the spoilt brat? Marcus recognised the flaws in the personality of Commodus but was still could not resist the lure of having his only legitimate biological son succeed him as Emperor, the first in 100 years.
Spurred on by the podcast I then read the Penguin 60s version of the Meditations that I bought some 25 years ago and had sat unread on my bookshelf. This version reads like Proverbs in the Bible; it is a series of thoughts that reveal a mind that of great humanity and natural humility (with limited humour). In the Meditations Marcus provides a succinct statement of Stoic philosophy by providing a series of practical philosophical exercises intended to digest and put into practice Stoic philosophical theory,
Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy (developed by Zeno of Citium around 300 B.C. as a refinement of Cynicism) which teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions. It does not seek to extinguish emotions completely, but rather seeks to transform them by a resolute asceticism (a voluntary abstinence from worldly pleasures), which enables a person to develop clear judgment, inner calm and freedom from suffering (which it considers the ultimate goal).
However, it was not until I read Robertson’s book that I began to understand both the model and the techniques. Perhaps the most important is cognitive distancing. This is summed up in one the more famous Stoic quotes: “It’s not events that upset us but our judgments about events.” What you need to do is not worry about events but go outside of yourself and consider the judgements you are making about them. This is not easy to do and is the basis of many mindfulness training workshops.
However, I then realised that learning how to do cognitive distancing is one of the great benefits of becoming a sales person. One of the key techniques in selling is to develop the ability to simultaneously think about the sales process while you are actually in the sales situation. Indeed, I am beginning to realise that is what distinguishes the successful sales person.
Cognitive distancing is also the basis of emotional intelligence. Emotionally intelligent people not only spend time analysing their own emotions but also controlling them. Also, they spend time analysing the emotions of others (empathy) and then use specific social skills to gain their co-operation. This is exactly what Marcus Aurelius describes in the Meditations so if anyone asks you to name an emotionally intelligent persons you now have an answer.
This blog was first published on LinkedIn on 3 October 2019.
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