How the Stoics Can Keep Us Calm in Life and During the Pandemic.
As in ancient times, there is much within Stoicism that can offer peace of mind today as the world struggles through the current COVID-19 pandemic. Combine that with me fracturing my C5, 6 and 7 in my neck right as the pandemic hit, it has brought me great insight to building strong moral character and clear-headedness, qualities which happen to prove invaluable during times of crisis. Let me explain how this can help you as.
William Stephens, PhD, professor of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and ethics in Creighton University’s College of Arts and Sciences, said, “It’s often the case that people who don’t understand Stoicism very well think that Stoicism is really just a philosophy for dark times. A philosophy for crises, when things are going badly, whether it’s wartime, or a pandemic, or the stock market crashing, or any number of so-called catastrophes,” Stephens says. “What the Stoics have taught us for a couple millennia now is that crises happen. And a crisis is simply what you judge to be an unexpected bad thing.”
Essentially, Stoics believe in understanding the difference between what is within the individual’s power and what isn’t. You had no control, for example, over when and where you were born or the family you were born into. Similarly, you cannot prevent bad weather, natural disasters, an economic downturn or the mass outbreak of disease.
The Stoics instead turn their attention inward and devote their energies to living according to reason, Stephens says. This means accepting that externals, such as poverty, sickness and even death are natural conditions that are neither good nor bad. The Stoics hold that the only true goods in the world — the only things that can guarantee a peaceful, happy life — are four key virtues: wisdom, justice, courage and self-control.
“Being a good person is what matters,” Stephens says. “Stoics fundamentally try to root out these pathological states of fear and anger and greed and lust as diseases of the mind. They recognize that cultivating our moral character is something that’s up to us. No one can stop us from becoming more courageous or trying to live justly or helping other people. No one can stop us from committing ourselves to living virtuously.”
Recognize the events in your life that you do and don’t have control over. If you become frustrated with events outside of your control, you are wasting energy and fostering negative emotion. The stoic practice of protecting your mind from circumstances out of your control. You can’t change these events; you can only change your attitude towards them. Through this realization our mind can become impenetrable. So long as we can control our attitudes and reactions, we can very well never be negatively influenced by outside events.
“Stoicism trains you to deal with whatever happens by using the virtues that you’ve cultivated over many years. You train yourself not to be surprised, to be ready,” Stephens says. “What rattles people now is, we forget that we have a long history of battling plague and epidemic. Diseases are not new. We’re going to get through COVID-19. With Stoicism, we can begin to think about how we’ll handle ourselves on the road ahead.”
When frustrating things happen, breathe, recognize your emotion and the reason for it, and let it pass. You can’t do anything about it anyway. All that you can control is your reaction, and all you can do is embody goodness and appreciate all you have, which is something I’m sure we’ll all find joy in.