A Stoic’s Guide to the Pandemic

It’s hard to imagine a decade getting off to a worse start. The daily dose of dystopia is enough to drag anyone down. But the other day I stumbled across the Stoics, and they know a thing or two about turning adversity into advantage.

In the 2nd century, the most powerful man in the world picked up his journal and wrote, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way”. His name was Marcus Aurelius and although he was the emperor of Rome with enough wealth to solve most problems, he still wanted to remind himself that life’s misfortunes can be an opportunity to practice a virtue, be creative, or do something that he wouldn’t otherwise have done. We know those words today by the maxim, “the obstacle is the way”. 

It got me thinking, the suspension of our civil liberties and the  draconian rules brought in to fight this pandemic, might have some utility. Lets see.

Stay home. Being under house arrest gives us prolonged periods with our possessions. After a while, you might wonder, do I need them all? Do they add value to my life? Or are they holding me back? The book Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk contains the line, “The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after we’ve lost everything  that we’re free to do anything.” The mental clarity and freedom that comes from owning less should not be underestimated. There’s nothing like a good clear out.

Non-essential shops closed. What constitutes essential is highly subjective. But its obvious that many businesses rely on us buying things we don’t need. Their adverts play on our insecurities and they trouser our disposable incomes. If we become more intentional with our purchases we can reallocate that time, money and attention, and spend it on the things that really matter to us. We are never more ourselves than when we buy and surround ourselves with the things that drive us.

Social distance. A misnomer if every I heard it. Physical distance is what slows transmission. Our social connections will get us through. But I digress. By forcing us to be selective about who we spend time with we have the chance to consider which relationships are most important to us. Some are vital for our emotional wellbeing and achieving our goals, others are good and convenient in a given context, and there are some relationships that drain us and affect us negatively. If Jim Rohn is right and we’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with. We should choose wisely.

Work from home. For those that let work dictate where they live, this is a game changer. If we can work from home then we can live somewhere else, or earn on the road. Think of the possibilities. Living in a less expensive place allows us to take a less lucrative but more meaningful jobs that better reflects our interests and values. A more fulfilling lifestyle is there for the taking.

Shielding. When Morrissey sang, “Stop watching the news, because the news contrives to frighten you”, he was onto something. Naval Ravikant agrees, “The human brain is not designed to absorb the world’s breaking news and 24/7 emergencies, injected straight into the skull with clickbait headlines. If you pay attention to that stuff, even if you have a sound mind and body, it will eventually drive you insane.” That’s it, I’m shielding, from the news.

Wear a mask. To be honest, I may have already been wearing one. Many of us craft reputations that conceal our true identity, either to get on at work, please family, or because we lack the confidence to express ourselves fully. Now could be the time to ditch those metaphorical masks and strive for authenticity.

Ok, I’ll wrap up my ramblings there. Coincidentally, much of Marcus’ musings were written during a pandemic and on that topic he offers this, “A plague can kill you, but it only harms you if it destroys your character”. Perhaps it is possible to emerge from this enforced hibernation with a renewed sense of purpose. Perhaps the roaring twenties are around the corner.

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