I was talking American politics recently with my old friend, the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Marco is a good person to talk to about such a tough subject: he’s the essence of wisdom, calm, and decency. As usual when I’m perplexed, depressed, or enraged, he let me prattle on for a bit about, you know, that man. Then he handed me a large goblet of wine—partly to calm me down, and partly, no doubt, to shut me up. And he said something that was, characteristically, both soothing and strangely challenging:
Whenever you are offended by someone’s lack of shame, you should immediately ask yourself: ‘So is it possible for there to be no shameless people in the world?’ It is not possible. So don’t ask for the impossible. The person you’re talking about is just one of those shameless people who is inevitable. Have the same thought ready when you meet the rogue, the traitor, every sort of offender. Recognizing that this kind of person must exist will make you kinder to them as individuals.
Well put, I said. You should include that in you diary. Which I had a dream about, BTW—it’s going to get published after your death, under the title Meditations.
Really? I will include it then, he said. Definitely.
Good. And you know, if I knew this man personally, that thought would perhaps make it easier to respond to his failings with more compassion, and a bit less anger. But Marco, that’s not really the point.
Because this guy is so popular that there’s a serious possibility he’ll become the next President of the United States.
Ouch. Like, you’re about to get Nero and Caligula rolled into one?
Yes! And the worst of it is, a lot of people actually seem to want that. It’s amazing! But he shook his head at that:
Everything now is as it was in the days of those we have buried.
Then he looked at me pityingly, and poured me the rest of the wine. It was 2,000 years old, and a bit vinegary. I drank it anyway.