Although that quote is linked to the contemporary movie Gladiator with Russell Crowe (one of my favorite movies), the actual genesis of this quote comes from the writings of Marcus Aurelius.
“What we do now echoes in eternity.”
Considered the last of the “good” emperors of the Roman Empire, it is quite an intellectual journey when reading through some of his writings and personal journal entries. A very good friend of mine gave me a copy of “Meditations” a number of years back and I still find myself reading through it from time to time. The man was an intellectual. A leader. The caliber of which we have been sorely missing for quite some time.
Reading over that quote today, I got to thinking about how often we as a society stop to think about the repercussions of our actions. I doubt it ever really crosses our minds, or if it does, it is only a fleeting thought that is quickly replaced by matters we deem to be more important. Myself included in that generalization. But, if we were to genuinely stop to evaluate our actions based on this simple idea, how would we fare? Would we be proud of our actions, or ashamed? Would we feel we have done the best we can, or are we lacking compassion and tolerance? Are we helping others, or hurting them? Do we ever even think about it in those terms?
In today’s society of “me first”, point A to point B, expressing ourselves in 140 characters or less, and tunnel vision which only sees what affects us immediately, we rarely even stop to consider how our actions throughout our daily lives may in fact lead to circumstances that drastically alter the life of someone else.
To be clear, this is not a post where I am attempting to justify our societies way of placing blame on someone else for the actions that an individual has taken – because I believe that this sort of entitlement mentality is exactly why we have a whole generation of people who want the freedom to do whatever they want while attempting to dodge the responsibility of dealing with those actions. Each individual is responsible for their own actions and should be held accountable.
That said, I also believe that who we are to other people does have some affect on the steps they choose to take while going throughout the rest of their day. Every one of us has said and/or done something in the heat of the moment that we later come to regret. In a vast majority of these instances we can trace that explosion of emotional catharsis back to several small incidents that happened throughout our day. Each one of these small incidents take their toll until, eventually, we have to release that pent up anger, stress, or alienation onto the closest thing/person to us in that moment. We then feel ashamed because instead of dealing with those personal issues in a responsible way, we have instead unloaded that burden unto someone else. Round and round it goes.
You know, it is always fulfilling to me to notice someone react to a compliment when they least expect it. Their eyes light up a bit, often times their head will tilt to one side – like a dog who is hearing a noise or command they don’t quite understand – a smile begins creeping over their lips, and they seem to radiate new life because of such a simple act. Out of some sort of societal courtesy that we have established, many people are not sure whether to thank a person for such kind words, or brush it off as if they don’t deserve it. And, unfortunately, there are those people who are so unused to hearing words of praise that they genuinely feel as if they don’t deserve it. But, that one simple act could in fact change the entire outcome of their day – all because I chose to acknowledge them in a positive way.
Scaling that back a bit, what if that one moment of positive interaction not only changes the outcome of their day, but also inspires them to seek additional positive interactions within their life by making better decisions and more positive influences?
When I attempt to classify myself in terms of positive or negative on my overall viewpoint towards life, I often do so in a way that seems to be, on the surface anyway, a huge contradiction. I categorize myself as a hopeful-cynic-realist. I am hopeful for the best of humanity, but understand that we as a species are generally always acting for our own self-interests and this will – most times – supersede our choice to do something positive for others when it is considered a burden on our own time and interests. But, perhaps actively seeking moments in time when we can be a source of positive interaction to someones life would be one way to change all of that.
Going back to Marcus Aurelius, here was a man who, very easily, could have gone a completely different direction in his life. Just look at the Roman emperors who began to come after him. He was born into prosperity, likely didn’t have to want for anything, and was ruler of one of the greatest empires the world as ever known. Yet, even in this, he still knew and personally took into consideration that his choices in life had the ability to send ripples through the water and affect more than just himself. He understood that how he chose to interact with the world around him could affect it in both a positive and negative manner – and, consequently, could have far-reaching effects in ways that he may never even realize.
What we do and how we choose to interact with others changes things – for better or for worse.
A simple “thank you” could be the single positive voice someone has heard in a sea of negativity. Your act of kindness could inspire someone to realize that there is a reason not to go home that evening and end it all. Your random generosity could be an inspiring act to someone else who just happened to be in the area to witness it. You can be the positive interaction in a world that focuses on the negative. We long for the “good old days”, when people respected and cared for one another. When neighbors actually knew each other instead of looking through closed blinds at what we “think” they might be doing. We live, side by side – but as complete strangers who are so focused on turning their eyes from one screen to another without ever looking up to realize that life is happening right in front of our eyes. We can teach, learn, communicate, and inspire others in a positive way. We are anti-socials who are longing to be heard because we communicate in 1’s and 0’s instead of face to face.
Everyone wishes things would change. Be the change you are looking for in others, and you may be surprised at the outcome. If everyone is waiting for someone else to change – nothing changes.