top of page
  • Writer's pictureQuique Autrey

Being at Home in the World



Later this week, I'm hoping to speak to my friend Phuc Luu about his in-depth analysis of Sam Esmail's Netflix hit Leave The World Behind. There's so much in the movie to explore that it's challenging to know where to begin. As odd as this may sound, I want to begin with the Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD).


After watching the movie a second time, a passage from Marcus' Meditations came to mind. The Meditations are a series of personal writings, unlikely intended by Marcus to be published. You could imagine the Meditations as Marcus' philosophical diary, a series of Stoic comments and self-exhortations to help him remember the principles that guide his life.


Before sharing the entry from Marcus that came to mind, I want to quote Amanda's (Julia Roberts) monologue at the beginning of the film. Amanda paces around her bedroom, explaining to her husband Clay (Ethan Hawke) why she's packing and getting ready for their spontaneous vacation:

Well, when I couldn’t fall back asleep this morning, I came over here.
To watch the sunrise.
And I saw all these people starting their day with such tenacity. Such verve.
All in an effort to…
…make something of themselves.
Make something of our world.
I felt so lucky to be a part of that.
But then, I remembered… what the world is actually like.
And I came to a more accurate realization.
I fucking hate people.

These four words, "I fucking hate people" sets the tone for the rest of the film. The movie is an arresting commentary on the division and distrust that characterizes our country (USA) and world. There are racial and class divides (to name just a few) that seem insurmountable.


There's so much more that needs to be said about this movie. I'll refrain from saying much more at this point. I would encourage you to read Phuc's essay and listen to the upcoming episode on Psyche podcast.


To Act According To Your Nature




Let's go back to Marcus. At the beginning of one of his entries he states:

When you find it hard to get out of bed in the morning, remind yourself that you are rising to perform the duties of a human being. Why feel dissatisfied about doing what you're meant to do, what you were born to do? Were you created just to lie in bed and keep warm? But then you might argue, "Staying in bed is more enjoyable." Is your purpose in life then merely to seek pleasure and avoid effort? Look at the natural world: the small plants, birds, ants, spiders, and bees, each diligently playing their part in the order of the universe. Are you reluctant to do the work that befits a human, to act according to your nature? Yes, rest is necessary, but even rest has its natural limits, just as there are limits to eating and drinking. Yet, you often exceed these limits in pursuit of comfort, while in your actions, you fall short of your potential. This implies that you don’t truly love yourself. If you did, you would embrace your nature and its demands. Consider those devoted to their crafts – they tirelessly labor, often neglecting personal hygiene and food. But you seem to value your own nature less than a craftsman values their craft, whether it's turning, dancing, the pursuit of wealth, or the quest for fame. Such individuals, driven by their passions, willingly forego food and sleep to perfect their skills. Aren’t the tasks that contribute to society equally important and deserving of your effort?
Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations - Marcus Aurelius - A Modern Translation for 2023 & Beyond (pp. 54-55). Juan Trillion Publishing. Kindle Edition.

I'm always struck by Marcus' honesty and relevance. Which one of us has not felt the pull of the warm covers on a cold winter morning? I have clients who battle depression and the desire for the comfort of the bed is almost impossible to resist.


But notice how Marcus coaxes himself to get out of bed in the morning. He reminds himself of his purpose as a human being. "Is your purpose in life then merely to seek pleasure and avoid effort?" Staying under the warm covers is one example of our human tendency to choose personal comfort and pleasure over social participation and cooperation. According to Marcus, while comfort and pleasure are nice things, they are not ultimately what we are built for. He encourages himself to look to the natural world for a clue to the point of his existence:

Look at the natural world: the small plants, birds, ants, spiders, and bees, each diligently playing their part in the order of the universe.

By reflecting on the ants and other natural life, Marcus is stressing the point that these creatures act according to their nature and contribute to the overall order of the universe.

Are you reluctant to do the work that befits a human, to act according to your nature?

When we opt for self-interest exclusively over social engagement, Marcus believes we have moved against the grain of our human nature and calling. And what exactly is our nature and calling?


Social Cooperation



Marcus begins a famous entry by reminding himself of all the difficult people he will encounter that day:

Begin each day with a reminder to yourself: Today, I will inevitably encounter people who are nosy, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and antisocial.
Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations - Marcus Aurelius - A Modern Translation for 2023 & Beyond (p. 22). Juan Trillion Publishing. Kindle Edition.

These imagined folks sound like the people that Amanda loves to fucking hate. Instead of adopting Amanda's misanthropy, Marcus opts for a love of other people rooted in mutual interdependence:

Likewise, I cannot feel anger towards these people, who are, in a broader sense, my kin. It's against our nature to harbor hatred towards them. We are all part of a larger whole, meant to work together just like the various parts of the body – like feet, hands, eyelids, or the rows of teeth in our mouths. Cooperation is our natural state.
Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations - Marcus Aurelius - A Modern Translation for 2023 & Beyond (p. 22). Juan Trillion Publishing. Kindle Edition.

We all need each other. Like our bodily members or rows of teeth, we are severely impaired without each other. Cooperation is our natural state. Living into our collective calling to support and benefit each other is the reason to get out of bed in the morning.


Being at Home in the World

A Diagram of Hierocles’ Circles

Nancy Sherman is my favorite proponent of a healthy, relationally oriented Stoicism. She laments how some versions of modern Stoicism over emphasize individual self-mastery without also highlighting the centrality of social supports.


In an interview on the Practical Stoic, she translates the Stoic concept oikeiôsis as "being at home in the world." Oikeiôsis is a technical term that signifies the perception of something as one's own, as belonging to oneself. This is exactly what Marcus is doing in the passage above. He is thinking of the people that annoy him as "kin". He is drawing them into his circle of kinship. He is including them in his human family.


The Stoics used Hierocles’ Circles (diagram above) to illustrate the concept of oikeiôsis. The point is to appropriate or draw in larger swaths of the world into one's orbit of care and concern. This is the antithesis of leaving the world behind. This is about love, not hate.


Sherman ends her opinion piece in the New York Times with these powerful words:

In “On Anger” Seneca calls on us, “Let us cultivate our humanity.” That is the enduring Stoic promise: to empower us in our common humanity. It’s not self-help but group help. If the Stoics are worth reading, it’s because they constantly exhort us to rise to our potential — through reason, cooperation and selflessness.

Let us not leave the world behind. Let us imagine a world where individual self-interest is not at odds with the interest of others. May we learn to cultivate our reason and empathy to benefit ourselves, our neighbors and the global community.

35 views0 comments
bottom of page