One step forward, two steps back: what Hegel and Marcus Aurelius can teach you about how to progress.| 51/100

Do you ever feel like you’re just starting to get to grips with a problem – when it all falls to pieces? A friendship you thought was developing nicely is derailed with an awkward conversation or careless joke. A workout plan is suddenly disrupted by a nagging injury that flairs up. A blog post grinds to a halt and you realise you’re at a creative dead end.

Lessons from history

The German philosopher Georg Hegel can help us deal with the strange, non-linear nature of progress. In his lifetime, he watched the decadent, grossly corrupt French monarchy collapse. But, rather than a balanced, democratic republic immediately springing from the ashes of the old system, we got Napoleon. He brought order to the chaos but went too far. His love of glory and conquest plunged continental Europe into decades of war and conflict. It takes time to get things right. The dust has to settle.

“Genuine tragedies in the world are not conflicts between right and wrong. They are conflicts between two rights.”

-Georg Hegel

Scaling it down

Hegel recognised that, as individuals, we exhibit the same types of behaviour. We often lurch from one extreme to another, dealing with problems by overcompensating in one direction – and causing ourselves a whole set of new issues to contend with with.

We might seek to combine Hegel’s sage observations with one of my favourite Stoic principles – ‘amor fati‘ (or ‘loving fate’). Recognising that we’re never going to progress smoothly and directly towards our goals (even if you’re a member of The Beatles), and readily accepting whatever curve balls life throws at us on the way, can be a powerful way of dealing with our problems more maturely.

Adapt yourself to the things among which your lot has been cast and love sincerely the fellow creatures with whom destiny has ordained that you shall live.

-Marcus Aurelius


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