One of the things I have found most pleasure in these past few years is a book called Meditations, by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
In it, he describes the principles of Stoicism.
I can’t say that I live by them (although I read it frequently and try), but I do fight mightily to hold to one of its central precepts; that we cannot control what happens to us but we can control how we respond to it.
It means trying to be calm and rational and focussed.
It means that when things happen which we don’t like we have choices about how we behave.
We can get angry. I still do that, sometimes, but I try to make sure that it only lasts a moment, after which I focus, take a deep breath and try to resolve the issue or fix the problem.
Sometimes that means walking away from an argument.
Sometimes it means dealing with the matter at hand.
The trick is to accept what is in your control and leave the rest up to the Gods, to live in the moment and neither dwell on the past or worry too much about the future.
Hard to do in the modern world.
That’s where the discipline comes in, and I’m a little short on that sometimes.
But I continue to try.
The whole thing can be summed up in a single concept from that book, a concept which is woven through Stoicism itself and, indeed, much of Western philosophy; memento mori. Remember you die.
Act as if today could be your last.
Value the things you have and put aside those which frustrate you or anger you or otherwise would waste your valuable time.
Put simply, this is the reason I don’t listen to Radio Clyde and won’t watch Kris Boyd on the telly.
It’s the reason I don’t respond to every little barb and criticism; life’s just too short to be dealing with drama.
It’s the reason I have to rely on a network of good people who send me stuff from certain quarters, asking “have you seen this?” or “have you read that?” because I personally won’t usually seek it out.
It makes this job harder in some ways. It makes life itself a lot more bearable.
I have no idea what Ange Postecoglou has read or hasn’t read or knows or doesn’t know about philosophy or Marcus Aurelius or Stoicism, but I know because of what we can observe and what we can hear him say that he certainly understands these things and lives by the basic concepts in a way which I wish I did more fully.
This is how he remains unflappable under pressure.
What is pressure to Ange?
Ask him and I bet he would tell you that pressure situations are those where you are most challenged to be your best self.
They are opportunities for growth and for development.
Besides, he has the Stoics way of looking at the world and realising that the so-called pressures of his job and his life are nothing when you think of people in warzones, or struggling to pay their bills, or dealing with illness or bereavement … Ange knows that a manager losing games or even being sacked isn’t the worth thing that could happen.
Indeed, it’s the only other certainty of a managerial career.
Everything Ange says, the way he comports himself, the way he views the game and how he wants us to play it – as something people want to come and see, win or lose – convinces me that he understands Stoicism perfectly even if he’s not a student of it.
Throughout history, great, great people have embraced Stoicism.
Nelson Mandela is said to have read Meditations in prison, although I suspect he had read it long before.
The modern right has tried to make Stoicism its own, but they fail primarily because they misunderstand it and have tried to twist into some form of toxic masculinity; Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus all preached that the only way to live is to live a good life, starting with being humble and respectful of your fellow human beings.
That’s Mandela to a T.
When he got out of prison to become the President of South Africa he could have used his moment of greatest power to take revenge; instead, he used it to heal the wounds of racism, hatred and war, and to rebuild his country.
It’s Ange to a T.
Look back on how he dealt with the scandal of racist abuse; when he was asked about sending the bigots to counselling he pointedly asked why anyone should need counselling to treat other people with respect, or to behave like a human being.
Look at the way he deals with our media; such a snarling viper pit and hotbed of ignorance as you’ve ever seen.
Yet he shows no real overt anger even when they ask him insulting and even pathetic questions. He always shows respect. He always engages them in a positive way, and his attitude towards them, in general, is to say they are just doing their jobs.
This is why the answer he gave at his presser yesterday, to the question as to how he felt about The Mooch and his spiteful “Ange is lucky” comments, was magnificent.
Not just good, bloody well magnificent.
And it once again inspired me to consider whether or not we’re dealing, in The Mooch, with a complete moron or just someone acting like one.
Here’s a Marcus Aurelius quote from Mediations; “The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.”
If The Mooch understood the man half as well as he thinks he does, he’d have known he was going to be owned and not by Ange’s anger but by his decency.
“I agree, mate,” Ange said to the reporter who asked him to comment on The Mooch’s notorious quotes.
Then added the killer lines. “I’m an extremely lucky man. I work for a fantastic football club with fantastic people. I’ve got a beautiful family. I’ve been doing this for 25 years now and long may it continue.”
Isn’t that wonderful?
Isn’t that a glorious, uplifting attitude to take and the perfect tonic to remarks that were explicitly intended to be antagonistic?
Ange refuses to be antagonised.
He refuses to be distracted by an obvious provocation.
The Mooch clearly does not realise who it is he’s dealing with here. Ange is not going to be psyched out by such pitiful gamesmanship, in part because he just doesn’t have time to bother with such nonsense.
Like a true Stoic, he knows what’s important here and what’s not.
He cannot control what the idiot across the city says or does or thinks, he simply focuses on what is within his sphere of influence and deals with that, as it happens, day by day by day.
How is The Mooch going to defeat, with such blunt tools, a man whose entire life philosophy is based on the idea that what he does is meant, primarily, to please other people?
Look at what Ange said in the aftermath of one of his greatest moments as Celtic boss, the 3-0 win over the Ibrox club which sent us to the top of the table this time last year.
“We had 60,000 in here. I’m sure a lot walked in with some problems in their lives and for 95 minutes we made them forget that and feel good – and that’s something special.”
And God damn it, yes it is special.
What a man he is. What an outlook.
Did The Mooch really believe that he could play such a low card, from the bottom of the deck, and score as much as a point?
Doubtless there are clowns in the media who did believe that he delivered some killer lines … but in fact, all he did was show himself up as a man already making excuses for failure.
Ange showed him up yesterday with his wit and his charm and his general humanity.
The press might call it cheeky or use whatever negative adjective they want, but the simple fact of it is that our manager is not only better at his job than this clown but a better man than the sneaky, backstabbing low-order guy who wilfully undermined a fellow boss to take his job and is already squirming in his chair.
And all this whilst he’s still sailing in relatively calm seas.
Can you imagine this joker in the midst of his first crisis?
Oh boy, that’s going to be worth waiting for.