“The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.” Marcus Aurelius – Anger Management
What is the best way to overcome your enemies?
Enemies have a way of bringing out the worst in us. They make us act and think in mean ways. When we mimic the behaviors of our enemies we get revenge on them and feel a fleeting sense of accomplishment. But, maybe resisting anger is a better way to respond. That way we maintain self-control and draw attention to our enemies’ negative behavior, and in the process, preserve our integrity.
Steve and Dan Fouts are joined by educator Anat Hector-Brown to decide what is the best way to get revenge, or whether it’s even necessary in order to achieve happiness.
Image source: Pixabay
Dan Fouts 00:00
Hello, Steve and Dan Fouts here. We’re veteran educators from Illinois who have created the Teach Different podcast to model how to have unforgettable conversations using a super simple 3-step method and quotes from some of the world’s great thinkers. This method works with students of all ages, in all types of classrooms, and can be used in online or face-to-face environments. So, if you’re a teacher, administrator, social emotional learning specialist, or anybody who loves the art of conversations, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome.
Well, hello everybody. Welcome to the Teach Different podcast. We have a really great show for you tonight. We have one guest, Anat Hector-Brown from Canada, who will be introducing herself in a moment. We’re going to be looking at a quote from Marcus Aurelius, who we’ve talked about before. We had a quote from him recently. This one is on anger management. Something I think we can all learn from, especially the students under our our care. To refresh everybody about the Teach Different method, we’re going to work through the quote by talking about the claim, what it means to to us. We’ll share how we think this quote will be received by our students, if we were to use this in class, for instance, and then we push against it, just like we should in a conversation. We look at a counterclaim, or another way to look at the quote. That provides a little bit of tension with what Marcus Aurelius is saying. Then, we end with an essential question to send everybody off thinking about these issues more in depth.
With that introduction, let’s begin. I’ll give the quote, and then we’ll start our conversation. Marcus Aurelius was a stoic philosopher. We’re going back 2000 years for some wisdom, which is always really cool. “The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.” “The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.” Who has an idea on this one?
Anat Hector-Brown 02:24
Well, I thought about that one.
Dan Fouts 02:28
You can introduce yourself, remember.
Anat Hector-Brown 02:31 – Claim
I’m Anat. I am so happy to be here. I am a music teacher, and I work with very small ones from 22 months. Actually I have a 20 month old, and I think I have an 18 month old coming this month. We’ll see how that goes. My specialty is working with younger children. The idea of not being like your enemy, to me, is about being able to walk away, and not lower yourself to somebody else’s place. Somebody is having a really bad time with themselves, and they take it out on you, then you get in a bad mood and get short with somebody else. They don’t even know why, right? So to me, it’s about trying to be able to walk away and not engage with something that could potentially make you feel worse.
Steve Fouts 03:58
Well said. I’m thinking of what to add to that, because I really like how you talk about walking away. That’s considered an accomplishment in certain environments. It’s a grand accomplishment to be the bigger person, to not have to get that last hit in and to walk away. What you end up doing is saving yourself. In a way you might even be saving your enemy. You’ve made that decision, and more importantly, you haven’t become like them. I don’t know how to say what that strength is that he’s talking about. I’ll put it to you or you know, Anat. Where does that strength come from, to be able to know when to do that and how to do that, and to not seek revenge?
Dan Fouts 05:01
Yeah, I think it comes from a strong sense of self-worth and self-esteem. I think the people who are able to walk away from conflict, to not have to stoop to somebody else’s level, have to feel good about themselves in order to have the power to do that. If your self-esteem is low, then you’re more susceptible to joining into this negative behavior. I think that’s what the strength is. Is that what you were asking, Steve? Where does the strength come from?
Steve Fouts 05:42
Yeah, that’s a pretty good way to put it. If you’ve got stuff going on in your own life that you’re happy or excited about, you can see your enemies and these other things as distractions that you can leave alone. But, if you’re not feeling good about yourself, and you don’t have things going on, you’re going to be more apt to be drawn into conflict.
Anat Hector-Brown 06:08
I think that’s a good way of putting it as well. I find I’m more able to walk away to have my own happiness and just say, that’s not mine. But, I wasn’t always like that. When I was not as strong myself, and had enough going on in my own mind trying to get through life, when somebody came along to poke the bear, I’d just explode. If you’re miserable, you’re going to take it out on people. I can’t tell you how many times I reacted in such a bad way, and I’ve had to go back to say, I’m sorry. I apologize, that’s not usually like me. Now, I try to avoid having to apologize.
Steve Fouts 07:16
That’s an interesting way to justify this type of response. I don’t want to have to apologize. I don’t like that feeling. That’s really good. I’m looking at this too. I’m going to look at it a little closer, because I just noticed something about it. The best revenge is not to be like your enemy. The more I read that, the more I’m thinking that Marcus Aurelius isn’t totally against the notion of getting revenge in some way. But, the way you do it is not by not by adopting the tactics of your enemy, by getting drawn into the conflict. You can get revenge by letting it go. I don’t know what you both are thinking of that, whether that’s another way to read this. He’s not saying revenge is bad. He’s saying if you’re going to do it, don’t be like your enemy. Do it some other way. So I’m wondering what he means.
Anat Hector-Brown 08:21
Do it smarter.
Dan Fouts 08:22
Smarter, I agree. Yeah, he is saying, hey, you want to win? You just have to win in the right way. This is a hard one. I teach high school and I’ll be going into my 29th year. I have 15, 16, and 17 year olds. A lot of times they’re in conflict with one another, and this is a tough one for them. They’re going to think that revenge is a little bit different than what Marcus Aurelius is saying. But, I think what Marcus Aurelius is saying is that you emerge stronger if you don’t buy into what other people are doing. Ultimately you end up winning whatever battle you wanted to win.
Anat Hector-Brown 09:29
The best revenge is to live well. Somebody who is unhappy and miserable with what’s going on in their own life, enough that they’re going to take it out on you and be a cretin to you, for them to see you as being happy is revenge.
Steve Fouts 10:00
Happiness is revenge in a way, I’d have to agree with that.
Dan Fouts 10:09
That’s an interesting way of looking at happiness, as a revenge.
Anat Hector-Brown 10:19
I had to recently let go of a friend who had stuff going on. I tried to be a friend, and she ghosted me. I was shocked. It really hurt. All of a sudden she just would not speak to me, in no way shape or form. I remember working really hard on my business and everything. I was like, whatever. I’m busy. I have things to do. I have other friends. But, it occurred to me one day that never once did she see me upset about being ghosted and being hurt, because everything that I have done is for the joy of what I do for teaching. That was something I actually thought about the other day before coming on with you guys. It was a thought.
Steve Fouts 11:31
This is where it gets kind of messy, because when they see you happy, they can view that in lots of different ways. They could view it as she never cared about me in the first place. She’s happy without me. See, I proved it. She didn’t need me. That’s how they might react to that. Others might get really aggravated, because they wanted to one up you on something that obviously didn’t work. It’s situational is what I would add to this. My teaching experience was in the west side of Chicago – urban, underserved neighborhoods. That’s where I got all of my experience. The one thing I’ll add in to this is how they might react to a quote like this, this idea of the revenge not being like your enemy. This would be a tough one to convince them of, because they have to struggle to survive, and maintain respect. If you lose your respect, you don’t have a lot to fall back on, at least some don’t. Your respect is all you do have, and it’s hard to let things go. That’s why it made me think of this, because there isn’t as much to draw on. I just mentioned that because I think in certain environments this quote is probably more difficult to follow. I feel like we’re moving into the counterclaim right now, but I wanted to share that.
Dan Fouts 13:36
Yeah, definitely. I think that it depends on the environment you’re in. Although, I think in any environment where kids are growing up, they lose friends, they gain friends, they’re hurt by other people. That’s a common experience that everybody has. Depending on how you introduce this, most kids could find some connection to this quote. Maybe they wouldn’t call it their enemy, it might just be a friend. A lot of my high school students say we were friends in middle school, and then when we got into high school we were no longer friends. They ended up not liking them. I don’t know if they call them an enemy, but there was that feeling of abandonment. Like you said, Anat, like being ghosted. Steve, you’re right. It really depends on the environment that you find yourself in.
Anat Hector-Brown 14:44
If you’re teaching teenagers, I can see where thinking about philosophical things might come into play. I teach such little ones. The closest that I can get to this is Jimmy hit Bobby, and Bobby’s going to hit Jimmy back. But, you have to say, Bobby, just because he hit you, it doesn’t mean that you have to hit him back. You can use your words. We can tell Bobby how angry we are. We don’t need to use our hands. That’s as close as I can get.
Steve Fouts 15:29
That’s good. I think some adults could use that one. That’s pretty good
Dan Fouts 15:37
The value of communication, as opposed to physical force, as a way of resolving conflict. That’s great. That really is an application to this.
Steve Fouts 15:50
Let me remind us that this quote is not on conflict, per se. It now deserves a counterclaim. Let’s start thinking about someone who might tap Marcus Aurelius on the shoulder, and basically say, I see what you’re saying, but this is how it really is. What’s your good counterclaim to this?
Anat Hector-Brown 16:21 – Counterclaim
I think that the counterclaim is sometimes you’ve got to stand up for yourself.
Steve Fouts 16:29
There you go.
Dan Fouts 16:31
You stole it.
Steve Fouts 16:36
I’m going to force you since you said it, why is that? Why do you need to stand up for yourself? Why can’t you ever stoop to the level of your enemy? Why take the high road? They go low, we go high. Why?
Anat Hector-Brown 16:54
Sometimes somebody is so low that you have to go to their level for them to understand what the hell you’re saying. I just had it happen the other day. I’ve been asking someone to please stop sending me their conspiracy theories. I almost died from COVID, so I have a very strong belief system about what we can do to help the world. It’s not being anti anything. Every time I got an email, I would say, can you just not send me this stuff? The never ending anger all spewed at me. It was kind of like I represented COVID for this person. It was really strange. Finally, I just had to do a big FU. I just had to say that’s enough. It’s very degrading what you’re doing. If you even had an ounce of what I suffered through, I think you would know. And that’s it. That’s it. Just no more.
Steve Fouts 18:32
You had to just go there and deal with it on that level. If you would have tried to not be like them, and been Miss polite, they never would have heard you. You would have been taken advantage of. They would have felt like they won, even if they hadn’t. Reality didn’t resolve. I get it. I have to agree with that. Dan, what do you think? I want to give another story for my school, but I want to hear from you, too.
Dan Fouts 19:12
Yeah, I hear exactly what you’re saying. Enough is enough with certain things. Some people are only able to communicate on a certain level. Unless you meet them at their level, you’ll never get your message across, and no one wins.
The thing that popped into my mind, and this is a little bit of an application of a teaching experience, was when there’s a student in my class who’s being particularly difficult, and maybe abusive or intimidating towards another student. I’m reading this quote, the best revenge is not to be like your enemy. If I could just think of that student as my enemy at that moment. Marcus Aurelius is saying what you need to do is go completely opposite of what he’s doing. Be really nice. What I found in my career is that sometimes the very best approach in dealing with a student who is being abusive, intimidating, or bullying, is to very politely, but firmly, stand up to that student right there in front of class to model the importance of enough is enough. Now, this doesn’t happen often, but there are moments where I believe that is the appropriate approach to take. Not always. Sometimes it’s, Hey, could you come outside, I want to talk nicely to you for the next 10 minutes. But, other times the forceful approach is good. That’s a personal experience I would bring in to substantiate a counterclaim here.
Steve Fouts 20:53
That’s good. That makes sense. Let me just share mine quickly. What I ended up learning, it was simple after I learned it, but it took me a while. Where I was teaching, if you acted nice after someone did something intimidating or challenged you, you were considered weak. You may think you’re taking the high road, and you may be, but you’re weak. Not only are you perceived as weak by at least half of the students, but the other half are going to think that you don’t care about the class enough to make this student behave the right way. You don’t care about teaching. I can’t tell you, that was a learning process. I started by trying to follow a quote like this, and I ended up picking out strategic moments, and I got better at it. Sometimes you just have to be confrontational. It doesn’t have to last long. Make sure you have the conversation after it. They’re amazingly effective. Students love you. They’re drawn to you, because you showed you care. I’m not saying that being mean means that you care, but to some people, if you’re not mean when you should be, it means you don’t care. That’s my best way to understand the counterclaim. That’s a tough one from a parent or teacher perspective – when to be mean, when to be nice, when to go opposite your enemy, when to match your enemy’s energy. It’s hard to know. Maybe age and experience allow you to figure out when to do it and when not to do it. Now, what criteria would you give? How do you know when you need to stand up? Is it just when you get so sick of it?
Anat Hector-Brown 23:40
It’s that you tried. You tried. You really did, and it just didn’t work. I was ready when I said, that’s it buddy. This is how I feel, maybe it’s when you’re ready to sever the tie. When you know that nothing’s going to change and you just have to sever the tie. I think the line is drawn and too bad, so sad, but we’re done.
Steve Fouts 24:33
There are certain moments where you just have to sever it. There are a lot of in betweens, too. You can confront and be like your enemy for a moment, but then when you pick them up off the floor, you cannot be like your enemy. You can redeem them.
Dan Fouts 24:51 – Essential Question
I think we gave good oxygen to the counterclaim. I think there’s a legitimate way of looking at the world against what Marcus Aurelius is saying. His words of wisdom are very good, as well. This is the essence of a conversation. Anat, you have really, really small kids, so this is hard. You have to boil it down on a different level. Anger management is something that is really important for kids to learn, to learn how to deal with anger and make those good moral choices. Everybody’s going to have conflict with other people, and how you deal with it is going to lay the framework for your happiness in life. This is definitely something I think is important for all of us to think about.
Here’s an essential question to kind of wrap up this conversation for any of our listeners who are going to use this in class. What’s the best way to overcome your enemies? There are a lot of ways of looking at it. Students will have great ideas to share. Thank you so much for being our guest tonight. We really appreciate you being here and sharing your wisdom with us.
Anat Hector-Brown 26:24
Steve Fouts 26:25
Thank you so much.
Anat Hector-Brown 26:26
Thank you for having me. It was really nice. This was great. It was really nice to meet you guys.
Steve Fouts 26:31
Nice to meet you.
Dan Fouts 26:32
Thanks again. Thanks, everybody.
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