Epictetus was a Greek Stoic philosopher who was born a slave and became a free man and teacher. As a stoic, many of the quotes attributed to him are particularly apposite at the moment (‘there is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will’), as well as more generally (‘we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak’), but what particularly strikes me during Coronavirus is Epictetus’s remark that ‘[people] are disturbed, not by things, but by the view which they take of them’.
As lockdown starts to ease and people tentatively head back to work or the golf course, there is much division about how fast the restrictions we’ve all been living under are lifted, whether there will be a second wave and how the economy can ever recover. It will clearly be quite a while before we return to the normality we used to know, and these first steps are very cautious indeed. Many people will be waiting a good deal longer to return to work; many will not have jobs to return to.
From the aggressive ‘I want my old life back and nothing is going to stop me’ to the timid ‘I feel vulnerable and anxious that it’s too soon’, our instinctive reactions say a lot about how we deal with stressful situations. We can find data and information to back our positions, but so can the other type of person. There are a million assumptions, there are myriad experiences, there are positives and negatives. There are no right answers.
However, even if it’s in spite of our instincts, we must try to take a positive view, whatever that means in practical terms. Yes, there are problems, but there are also solutions. Yes, things have changed and will remain changed, but change is not inherently bad. There are definitely uncertainties, but we can wargame those and find a range of options. I may sound over-simplistic but if we don’t do this, then what is the alternative? Long-term ‘disturbance’, as Epictetus would say, is no way to live. Long term negativity won’t help the economy, our community or our own futures.
By bringing forward our most optimistic selves, we can grasp the opportunities that are out there, we can drive things forward and we can support each other. If ever there was a time to collaborate with useful people, it is now. If ever there was a time to take a really hard look at our potential, it is now. If ever there was a chance to reset our careers, it is now. The view we take of our situation is in our own gift so let’s turn our faces to the sun and ensure that the perspective is better from that direction.