You Don’t Control What Happens, You Control How You Respond
The most important practice in Stoic philosophy can guide us through the age of coronavirus
The single most important practice in Stoic philosophy is differentiating between what we can change and what we can’t. What we have influence over and what we do not. In stressful times, I like to reread this passage from the Stoic philosopher Epictetus on just how to do that:
The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…
What better opportunity to practice this “chief task in life” than during the global pandemic we’re currently facing? Covid-19 is here. No amount of yelling at the TV will make it go away. Cursing the origin of the virus, being racist, perpetuating conspiracy theories, and hoarding toilet paper will not save you. Neither will sticking your head in the sand and pretending it’s “not that bad.” All these things do is waste the time and energy you could be using to sustain yourself and others.
We can’t control the existence of coronavirus, but we can control how we respond. The goal now is to flatten the curve. To prevent the unnecessary spreading of the virus. To prevent unnecessary overloading of medical professionals, emergency services, and other critical infrastructure. No one individual can accomplish this by themselves, but each of us acting rightly, collectively, can make a big difference. As the Greek philosopher, Zeno, famously said, “Well-being is realized in small steps, but it is no small thing.”
We realize this well-being and fight this virus by the choices we make right now. Here are some things you can do:
- Practice social distancing. As much as possible, stay away from people outside of your family. See if you can work from home, and if you have employees, do what you can so they can do the same. Implement common-sense measures so that your employees and customers are safe: reducing face-to-face interactions as much as possible, granting…