When things get hard, a Stoic steps up. We’ve talked about that before. We do this because we know we can carry a heavy load, a load heavier than most people.
That’s what Marcus Aurelius was saying when he said it doesn’t matter whether something is fortunate or unfortunate. What’s fortunate, he said, is that it happened to you. Or that it happened while you were nearby. Because other people wouldn’t be able to handle it like you. Because other people haven’t had the training or the prosperity or cultivated the courage and temperance and justice and wisdom that you have.
So as we look at the effects of this terrible pandemic and as we face the recession that has already begun, the critical question for us—the fortunate, the trained, the brave—is to ask how we can think of others before ourselves. We can ask: How can I lighten the load for others?
Some easy, simple ones: Check in on someone who might be lonely, so they don’t have to bear isolation. Reassure—but also be straightforward—with employees about your ability to maintain the business and that you value their safety most. If you own rental or investment properties, be patient or flexible with the rent. If you own debts, try to work out a payment schedule given recent events (Seneca did not do this in Rome and it is a stain on his reputation. Marcus did and it’s one of his greatest accomplishments). Donate supplies or goods to people who might need them. See what you can do to keep the elderly from needing to leave their homes. Tell your kids or your significant other they don’t need to worry—that you’ve got it covered. Keep supporting local businesses that you can afford to support.
There are many things that can be added to this list, depending on who you are, what you do, and what will happen. But the point is: It’s your job to be thinking about this. It’s your job to try to lighten the load for others, to be of service and to be a positive force in the world. The Stoics believed we were made for each other, that the fruits of this life were good character and acts for the common good.
Live up to that. Now!