Greg Morris

Designer, Pretend Photographer, Dad

A Lesson from the Gymnasium

One of my most re-read books is Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. I tend to pick it up often and read through some of the passages and often they can tell me something about what is currently happening in my life. A few days ago I happened upon a passage from Book 6.20, where he uses a gymnasium metaphor to deliver a profound insight on handling interpersonal conflicts. It’s fascinating how he draws lessons from the physical to the philosophical.

In the gymnastic exercises suppose that a man has torn thee with his nails, and by dashing against thy head has inflicted a wound. Well, we neither show any signs of vexation, nor are we offended, nor do we suspect him afterwards as a treacherous fellow; and yet we are on our guard against him, not however as an enemy, nor yet with suspicion, but we quietly get out of his way. Something like this let thy behaviour be in all the other parts of life: let us overlook many things in those who are like antagonists in the gymnasium. For it is in our power, as I said, to get out of the way, and to have no suspicion nor hatred.

Imagine being in a gym where accidents happen—maybe a stray elbow here, a bump there. Aurelius notes that in these moments, we don’t hold grudges; we simply acknowledge the mishap as part of the process and remain vigilant without bearing ill will. He suggests taking this approach into our everyday lives, dealing with emotional and social bumps with the same nonchalance. This got me thinking about how often we misinterpret others' intentions. In the close quarters of life, just like in a gym, people might ‘collide’ with us unintentionally. According to Aurelius, we should view these incidents as neutral events, not personal attacks.

He pushes for a stance of strategic engagement rather than avoidance. It’s about recognising potential conflicts and navigating them without emotional disturbance. This stoic advice isn’t about withdrawal but about maintaining inner peace by choosing how we react. By doing so, we avoid the negativity that can cloud our judgment and disturb our tranquility.

Marcus Aurelius teaches us to face life’s inevitable scuffles with resilience and forbearance, just as we would in a gym—no fuss, just moving forward with awareness and preparedness. It’s a lesson in understanding the nature of conflicts and the power of our responses.

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