28 April 2014

Avoiding Our Own Wickedness

It is absurd not to flee our own wickedness, which is possible, but to flee the wickedness of others, which is impossible.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 7:71

The Greek word for "flee" (φευγειν) in the above passage is perhaps better translated here as "shun," "eschew," or even "attempt to avoid." It is of course advisable to avoid whenever possible the wickedness of other people. Throughout the extant works of Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius there are frequent exhortations to avoid wrongdoers (especially crowds of wrongdoers) and to surround oneself with virtuous individuals. But avoiding altogether the wickedness of others is ultimately impossible and a futile preoccupation. Daily we are going to come across wicked people or their influence. We may even be the random victims of insult and violence (or worse) at the hands of such people.
     Truly, the wickedness of others is unavoidable. Our own wickedness, however, is entirely avoidable. The former does not belong to us, but the latter does. In other words, the first is not within our sphere of control, but the other is, and completely so. What madness it would be to fret over another man's sins but not over our own! Not only is it "absurd," it will certainly cause nothing but unnecessary pain. 
     If virtue is our goal, we must always flee from evil of all kinds, and this flight must be first and foremost away from our own vice.