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’.
Talking to my children and their friends in their late teens and early twenties, I am aware of a sense of doom. These young people were still at primary school when the financial crisis hit but after the long slog of austerity they had reasonable expectations that their futures looked fairly bright… until COVID hit. Now they have not only lost their last days at school or chunks of their university lives, they are worried that they are going to lose their careers.
There’s an awful lot of cleaning, DIY and gardening going on in the land at the moment. Stuck in the house for most of the day, we are starting to notice and become irritated by all those unfinished jobs, never undertaken projects and ways in which we could have made our environment nicer. From improving our domestic backgrounds in Zoom meetings to growing our own veg, the nation has embarked on a range of projects.
I have probably been on the phone over the last few weeks more than I have in the previous twelve months. I am still using email, of course, and video calling but the phone is somehow more immediate and leads to better things. The world is remembering what it’s like to have a good chat on the phone and rather enjoying it.
Yes, that is an impossible question to answer on many levels. All any of us can think about is ‘when this is over..’ ‘once I can get back to normal…’ ‘if I can go to….’ We are all living in a surreal state of suspended animation where even the simplest task – domestic or work-related – requires planning thought and modification.