“It doesn’t matter how good a life you’ve led. There will still be people standing around the bed who will welcome the sad event”. – Marcus Aurelius
I think Marcus Aurelius makes this point beautifully. It doesn’t matter what sort of life you lead, it doesn’t matter what sort of person you are, there will always be people who disapprove of what you do, say and think.
You can be the most funny, kind, generous, humble and hardworking individual on the planet and yet still there will still be people who can’t stand to be around you. This is a lesson I wish I had learned earlier in life. No matter what you do, there will always be people who disapprove.
We therefore shouldn’t live our lives trying to avoid criticism, for that’s impossible. We can however, learn to stop allowing the insults and criticisms of others, from having such a negative effect over our lives.
The importance of self-awareness.
No doubt, at some point in your life, you have been in an argument with somebody when suddenly, a comment was made, which hit a nerve. A funny expression, which essentially means that somebody said or did something to you, which exposed a deep insecurity.
We all have these insecurities, some of us are insecure about our height, others are insecure about how much money they make. But here lies the problem, all too often in life we try to hide our deepest flaws and bury them into the abyss of our subconscious. When we do this however, we make ourselves vulnerable to the attacks of others.
A far better approach, is to learn to develop a higher level of self-awareness. In other words, we should learn to accept and embrace our flaws and failings, rather than trying to run away from them. It is only when we learn to truly accept who we are, that we can stop caring so much about the hurtful words others throw at us.
A surprising lesson from ‘A Game of Thrones’.
To demonstrate my point about learning to embrace one’s flaws, I will turn my attention to my favourite television show, A Game of Thrones. More specifically I will examine how the characters of Tyrion Lannister and Jon Snow, deal with the adversities they face during their lives.
You see, Tyrion Lannister and Jon Snow both a share a similar story. Despite being born into wealthy families, they are both essentially outcasts. Tyrion Lannister was born a dwarf, a constant source of shame which falls upon his noble house and one of the reasons he is hated by his father.
Jon Snow, on the other hand, was born a bastard who never knew his mother. Despite being raised by Ned Stark and his family, the boy is constantly made to feel inferior to his true-born siblings and is despised by Ned’s wife, Catelyn.
The fundamental difference between these two characters, is how they deal with the hands they have been dealt with in life.
I believe the core difference between these two characters can be seen in the following clip, in which the pair meet when Tyrion’s Family, visit Jon’s home in Winterfell.
We see in this clip how easily offended Jon becomes at the simply utterance of the word bastard. We see how visible angry he becomes, when Tyrion simply states a fact about Jon’s reality.
Compare this to Tyrion, who has learned to accept and embrace the hand he has been dealt with in life. He is a dwarf, mocked by others and looked down upon as the family disgrace. Tyrion has learned to embrace his deepest flaw and as a result, the comments and criticisms others throw at him, typically have little effect.
Through-out the show, Tyrion is often called ridiculed by others who refer to him as “imp” or “half-man”. Does he react with anger or visisble hurt? Of course not. Tyrion has learned to come to terms with his situation in life and as a result typically finds the attempts of others to belittle him, humorous at most.
But how often in life we do act like Jon Snow, rather than accepting our flaws, we try to run and hide from them? Perhaps then, we should learn to take a leaf out of Tyrion’s book and start embracing the parts of ourselves we so often try to hide. When we learn to do this, we take away the ability of others to hurt us.
“If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, “He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone.” – Epictetus
Learning to play to your strengths.
If there is one thing in life we have any control over it’s our thoughts, our ability to focus on one thing over another. We can choose to dwell on our failings or to embrace them and focus on our strengths.
Again we can learn a key lesson from Tyrion, rather than dwelling over his misfortunes he focuses on the things he does have in life. This is clearly highlighted in a second conversation between himself and Jon Snow, when the pair discuss why Tyrion reads so much, he replies:
“My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer and I have my mind…and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge. That’s why I read so much Jon Snow.”
Again Tyrion demonstrates an awareness of his own strengths and limitations. He knows he will never be a powerful warrior and so focuses on strengthening his mind and wit.
In your own life, you too have this ability. Perhaps you wasn’t born with great looks? Well focus on developing great social skills. Were your born into a poor family? Well, then you might have to take a second job, to pay your way through university. Tyrion can’t control the fact he was born a dwarf, so he chooses to focus on the things he can control. In our own lives then, surely we can learn to do the same?
“No one could ever accuse you of being quick-witted. Alright, but there are plenty of other things you can’t claim you “haven’t got in you.” Practice the virtues you can show” – Marcus Aurelius
Some final words.
I think the key message I would like you to take away, is that in life we should learn to accept our flaws but not to dwell on them. If you’re short, then own that. If you’re going bald, then learn to embrace that too but don’t fall into the trap of self-pity.
Rather we should focus our efforts on the things we can control, we should embrace our greatest strengths whilst learning to live with our weaknesses.
It’s not often we find ourselves taking life advice from A Game of Thrones, but I will leave you these final words from Tyrion Lannister.
“Never forget what you are, the rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor and it can never be used to hurt you.”