Marcus Aurelius: On Humility and Duty

We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has borne

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

In this day and age it is far too easy to become addicted to our ego. Through the internet and social media, we long for instant gratification and praise. Consequently, we become consumed by the notifications, the ‘likes’, and the comments as we continually search for validation. We are inclined to boast our feats, our good deeds and accomplishments to others. However, through this, we lose perspective of the original intentions of our actions.

The Stoics looked to nature and assessed how the world natural operates to understand how humans should act. It follows from this that humans are rational and social animals. As human beings, we flourish through our collective efforts in society not in isolation. In fact, the degree in which we are able to cooperate and collaborate to build complex and sophisticated civilizations is uniquely human. This trait sets us apart from other species.

Marcus Aurelius advises that we perform good actions not for the sake of praise or adoration, but for there own sake. Selflessly working towards improving the lives of others is what being a human living in a society requires of us. It is in our nature, just as it is in the nature of a bee to make honey or a vine to produce grapes. Therefore, we must not demand recognition or compensation for our good deeds or seek external validation.

In his book The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw profiles the lives of World War II Veterans who sacrificed their lives in pursuit of freedom. These soldiers were not motivated by fame or acclaim, but rather fought because it was ‘the right thing to do’. They performed their duty to their country and to their fellow citizens with honour and humility, not with pride.   

Humility is not a sign of weakness but rather a virtue. It demands that an individual be honest about their own abilities. Furthermore, it requires one to be content with their own self-worth and refrain from comparing themselves to others.   

Follow Marcus Aurelius’ advice and do what is expected from you, not because you will profit form it, but rather because it is the right thing to do.


This article was originally published on my personal blog – A Life of Virtue: Philosophy as a Way of Life – In Search of Inner Freedom

Image Source: Pexels Free Photos


26 thoughts on “Marcus Aurelius: On Humility and Duty

  1. Action, reaction, expectation, and ego can create quite a ruckus. The simple act of doing often expects reimbursement. It could be a favor in return, a kind thanks, or maybe ‘feel good’ praise and compliments. And if any of the mentioned reactions are lacking in some way, then the ego is unable to forgive. Doing and letting go is the simplest way to live, but the most complicated accomplishment for the ego. The spirit of duty must not waver, it is the completion of an act for the sole purpose of completing it and attaining the desired results. People must get out of their own ways and allow their purposeful acts to flourish. Great post. Thanks for sharing this. 🙂

  2. I am trying to build my blog following and ask for support when maybe I shouldn’t. But in response to this article, I do agree. When I go out people tend to open doors for me more now than before because of my crutches. People tend to say excuse me more when I’m in the store or offer to help me. I wish these things came natural for all people not just those with a handicap.

  3. Brokaw’s book is good, but Keegan’ “Face of Battle” is probably better in terms of understanding why soldiers fight. It’s less about “doing the right thing” than about loyalty to others in the platoon and not letting them down.

    That’s not to say that people don’t do what they see as right.

    I got involved in health insurance not for the money (better pay at Starbucks) but because I like helping people, and most people really need help. In my case, it feels like the right thing to do. And I do hold doors for others. I’m weird, I guess, but if so, happily so.

  4. Thank you for posting this! I find myself constantly checking my ego when I feel slighted, judged, or concerned that my tendency for ‘people pleasing’ is not rooted in the right cause – will be looking for Marcus Aurelius writing for future reading.

  5. I agree with so much of this. When I first wrote about humility, it was received with reluctance. So many people associate humility with being weak, not being assertive.

  6. As a human, we have forgotten the fundamental habits of being a human. We are living in this fabricated cocoon that is our own creation. It is high time we take off this mask and show our true self – if not to anyone else, at least to ourselves.

  7. Excellent!!! Must be something happening, I just finished writing a post about ego’s. I feel you did a much better job with your description. Thank you for sharing, really makes one think. Great post

  8. It saddens me that such great advice from so long ago only seems to reach so few. I am a fan of Marcus and have blogged quite often about his ideas. it suns me that such common sense struggles to enter our heads. Great post.

  9. Thank you, Andrew, for this incredible post. How true: “We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has borne.”
    I’ll be looking forward to your next post. 🙏

  10. An compelling post, Andrew. I love the Marcus Aurelius quote. <3

    Though humans have accomplished much by cooperation, we have also destroyed much by wars and crimes. I think we should follow the example of ants, bees, dolphins, and other animals who work together quite amicably for the good of their communities. 🙂

  11. Oh this is a wonderful post! True, we have let our ego constrict and confine us in the narrow spaces that we build for ourselves, forgetting that cooperation and humble can make everything so much better. In our quest for power, for being the conqueror, we have lost what it means to be humble. Constantly seeking validation, our motives are constantly selfish. I have also felt that we consider ourselves superior to Nature, superior to every entity in Nature forgetting that we are in true sense a part of Nature. True we have the rational to think but we haven’t been thinking constructively have we.

    1. Indeed, we are a part of nature not separate. “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe” Carl Sagan

  12. An insightful post.
    I agree with, “Humility is not a sign of weakness but rather a virtue. It demands that an individual be honest about their own abilities. Furthermore, it requires one to be content with their own self-worth and refrain from comparing themselves to others.”
    Well said.

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