The Daily Stoic for April 16th. “Observe cause and effect”.
“Pay close attention in conversation to what is being said, and to what follows from any action. In the action, immediately look for the target, in words, listen closely to what’s being signaled.”
—MARCUS AURELIUS, MEDITATIONS, 7.4
In today’s stoic meditation, Ryan Holiday suggests Marcus Aurelius is referring here to our own actions and words:
“… He’s asking you to become an observer of your own thoughts and the actions those thoughts provoke. […] Only when this is done can negative behavior patterns be broken; only then can real life improvements be made.”
I don’t think Marcus Aurelius meant that. In my mind, “to what’s being said” is not what you are saying, but what others are, instead. Why?
You won’t break any negative behavior or bad habit by observing your thoughts and actions.
First, because for everybody is easy to see the mote in your brother’s eye, without noticing the beam in your own.
Secondly, because in my opinion, it’s more difficult to identify those patterns until we observe them in someone.
Observe Cause And Effect, Learn, And Apply It To Yourself
Strangers passing in the street
By chance two separate glances meet
And I am you and what I see is me
— Pink Floyd, Echoes, from the “Meddle” album, 1970.
In my opinion, you learn a lot about yourself by observing others first. Some time ago, after writing about the stoic meditation, “You Don’t Have To Have An Opinion”, I have started to listen more and speak less when I am with friends. That allows me to get a lot more information, not just about the conversation, but about how they talk, feel, and react to certain topics.
After some time, I started to pay attention to how people behave too. Random behaviors you wouldn’t usually notice suddenly became fascinating scenes to watch while walking to the co-working center or enjoying a coffee at a café.
I have to confess that, after some time, I have become a psychological voyeur. I love observing the human nature, our behavior, and how we react to things.
The couple sitting at a restaurant, their eyes lost on their screens, not exchanging a single word the whole night. The old man waiting with a bouquet of flowers… then suddenly turning back and walking away. The young girl with the headphones walking, coffee in hand, smiling and dancing to the music… All of them have a story written on their body and movements
It has allowed me to identify some patterns that we all repeat over and over. Essentially, we all look alike. In my case, being able to observe them on others first helps me identify them on myself, and try to avoid the ones I didn’t like when I observed them on others.
Today’s Daily Stoic, “Observe Cause And Effect”, interprets a passage from Marcus Aurelius quite differently from my own interpretation. In my mind, letting our ego and our presence go into the background, and observing others, can be quite enlightening. We can learn a lot about ourselves by just watching others and learning from what we see and feel.