You Be You

by Tom Swift

“No more of all this talk about what a good man should be, but simply be one!” -Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 10.16

What the good emperor says sounds straightforward enough. But not so fast. Parse this out a bit. When you hear “good” you immediately think about what that word means to others. Not just all others but mostly those others who shaped you, directly and indirectly. To be good is to help other people. Except that is not all of what the emperor means. To be good is to be your best self. It is good for others when you find and live your best self. This is different than saying you should drop everything and work at a refugee camp in the third world. We all have our roles to play; it is enough to play your role and play it well. “Within the divine order we each have our special calling” says Epictetus, as translated by Sharon Labell. “Listen to yours and follow it faithfully.” Indeed, you can find yourself avoiding action with “talk” about “what a good man should be” — the emperor’s reminder is not misplaced. Just be clear on what good means.