Betimes in the morning say to thyself, This day I shalt have to do with an idle curious man, with an unthankful man, a railer, a crafty, false, or envious man; an unsociable uncharitable man.
All these ill qualities have happened unto them, though ignorance of that which is truly good and truly bad.
But I that understand that nature of that which is good, that it only is to be desired, and of that which is bad, that it only is truly odious and shameful: who know moreover, that this kinsman, not by the same blood and seed, but by participation of the same reason, and of the same divine particle;
How can I either be hurt by any of those, since it is not in their power to make me incur anything that is truly reproachful?
Since I came across this passage in “Meditations”, it has remained at the forefront of my thoughts each morning. It is terrific advice that I wish I found sooner.
When I was a child my parents told me a lie. They said, “sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you.” They did not know this was a lie, in fact, they got the same message from their parents, so I do not hold a grudge against them for repeating it. The phrase stuck into my young mind because it sounded just true enough, and it had an almost lyrical quality to it. A catchy jingle that I internalized like a good little boy; not realizing the truth.
I guarantee that every person reading this article can, within a few seconds, recall some name they were called or a taunt they endured in elementary or middle school that still causes them some amount of discomfort. I’ll bet more, and say most readers are glossing over this sentence as they are transported, in their mind’s eye, back to the exact moment where they were called something they found hurtful.
Back with me? Okay, good.
It sounds good, like all platitudes do, but it does not help a young person trying to navigate the social minefield of their school.
Words can hurt, if you allow them to hurt.
No one taught me how to process taunts, criticism, and outright insults as more reflective of the character of the person lobbing them than of my own character. My unique power as a depressive is that no one can use words to hurt me worse than I have used them to hurt myself. What nearly cost me my life, was that I did not know that I could dodge the verbal insults arising from my depressed mind.
If I do not allow myself to be impacted by other peoples’ words, it stands to reason that my own thoughts can cause me pain only if I allow them to hit me.
A more modern philosopher, Muhammad Ali, explains this Stoic principle more succinctly:
I'm gonna float like a buttery and sting like a bee.
George can't hit what his hands can't see.
Now you see me. Now you don't.
He thinks he will, but I know he won't.
They tell me George is good, but I'm twice as nice.
And I'm gonna stick to his butt like white on rice.
Watch the video below to see how Muhammad Ali used slips, dodges, blocks, anticipation, and speed to set up George Foreman for a knockdown. As you watch it, imagine whatever it is you are dealing with. Perhaps its negative thoughts, or recent criticism that you deemed unfair. Can you find a way to let the words slip by you? Can you be agile enough to dance away from a poor reaction?
Mental Agility, combines the philosophical advice of Marcus Aurelius and the Stoics, with the practical training and movement of Muhammad Ali, to teach any person how to outmaneuver the worst their mind can throw at them.