There is a line in the Odyssey (most recently translated by Seneca’s wonderful biographer, Emily Wilson). Odysseus, still early on in his journey home, is speaking with King Alcinous, and telling him of his deeds in the Trojan war. Alcinous remarks that:
“The earth sustains all different kinds of people.
Many are cheats and thieves, who fashion lies
out of thin air."
Clearly, Alcinous has been deceived before and knows how to look out for such people. He had a good read on Odysseus and could tell, despite the man’s reputation for cunning and cleverness, he was fundamentally a good and honest person. What’s interesting though is just how similar Alcinous’s remark is to one made by another king, Marcus Aurelius, hundreds of years later.
“When you run up against someone else’s shamelessness, ask yourself this: Is a world without shamelessness possible?
No. Then don’t ask the impossible.
There have to be shameless people in the world. This is one of them. The same for someone vicious or untrustworthy, or with any other defect. Remembering that the whole world class has to exist will make you more tolerant of its members.”
The world is big and filled with all types of people. Some are honest, some are not. Some are good, some are shameless. Might it be better if all were the former and none were the latter? Of course. But that’s not the case. Nor will it ever be.
So instead we must learn how to distinguish between the two, so that we may fill our lives with one and insulate it from the other. We must not go around expecting everyone to be perfect or reliable. We must accept that some people—for whatever reason—are destined to fill that undesirable quota of awfulness that the natural order seems to demand.
Don’t take it personally. Don’t be surprised. Don’t ask for the impossible. And then, of course, continue to hold yourself to your own high standards, because that’s the class you belong to.
P.S. Check out our brand new The Obstacle Is The Way pendant. Our hope is that when you encounter life’s obstacles, you’ll feel the pendant around your neck and remember that each obstacle offers a chance to thrive not just in spite of whatever is in front of you, but because of it!