Learning about stoicism in the pandemic
The passed few months of the pandemic has brought me closer to the philosophy of stoicism and its benefits. As the pandemic rages on, and the world seems to call for extremes in both directions - where you either lick door knobs and try to punch people wearing masks or you’re in a full space suit calling anyone who isn’t, an irresponsible murderer there's rather a significant need for rationalism coming from temperance, intelligence, justice and courage rather than this chaos. We cannot control these external events, however each individual has full control of how they act in each situation - and if those responses are in line with temperance, intelligence, justice and courage - we will all be fine, and satisfied with out fates.
Here’s a great but simple summary of the philosophy:
Trying to not completely submit to chaos, - things are far more complicated to be sure about something like this, and we need to take some precaution to protect the vulnerable and yet not shut down economies, as the loss of massive values in the rich world means the utter decimation of countries on the lower income scales. Society needs to open up again, and it needs to be with adjustments, but and we need to learn to live with this and work hard at a vaccine while protecting ourselves in our daily lives. For example, when tourist money for wildlife tours no longer come flowing in, the rhinos and elephants start getting hunted by the desperate poachers - and we start seeing losses of creatures which we may never have roaming our planet again. People who’s worked hard all their lives to run restaurants, or stores see their livelihoods fall apart - they will turn to extremes to try and swing it the other way around. Populism rises and we will see extreme leaders take hold - as lost people will listen to any glimmer of hope, even if it comes from a demagog. We have seen it before in Europe many times, and each time - it has ended in tremendous tragedy, that we are still working to repair our wounds from.
To find my middle way, and to align more with the ancient stoics, I’ve started to cultivate a vast variety of knowledge through the simple task of just reading books!! For long, I didn’t pick up a single book, and rather let my various devices of entertainment sooth my brain. Now, I feel calmer each day, as the first thing I do when I come home, everyday, is to read. In a few months, I’ve devoured more books than I usually have done in a few years. I get up early, I try and exercise, and do the things I don't like right away so I have the rest of the day ahead of me.
In terms of following the virtues of justice, courage and temperance, I work every day at journaling my experiences to reflect on if have acted with these virtues. One great way to “check-yo-self” is to follow other stoic leaders and emulate how they would act in these situations.
One of the stoic masters, Epictetus, writes:
“Invoke the characteristics of the people you admire most and adopt their manners, speech and behaviour as your own. There is nothing false in this. We all carry the seeds of greatness within us, but we need an image as point of focus in order that they may sprout”.
On top of the ancient stoic masters of Epictetus, Seneca or Emperor Marcus Aurelius, you also have Theodore Roosevelt who is said to have carried with him the works of Epictetus on his many trails. I’m currently reading the very heavy but beautifully written 'The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt', by Edmund Morris. He’s a fantastically fascinating, intelligent, well mannered and strong man whom if I could be but a per cent in the shadow of would be a great feat! Go Rex Teddy!
And finally, you cannot control how other people act, you can only control how you act.