This Is What Living Through History Looks Like

Perhaps you’re alarmed about the state of the world. Perhaps you’re horrified at the risks and dangers that lurk about. Pandemics, political chaos, riots, people at each other’s throats, unprecedented events—from cancelled NBA seasons to impeachments to a collapse in order in cities all over the world.

What did you think living through history was going to be like? It wasn’t fun to live through the Watergate years or the Six-Day War or the 1973 oil embargo or the Cuban Missile Crisis. Nobody wanted to experience one of the countless civil wars of the past or the Reformation or the Cultural Revolution. It was scary. It was weird. It was confusing. That’s what history is! It’s only the passage of time that turns down the volume on these things, that reduces them to a passage in a history book that feels neat and clean. At the time? Nobody knew what was happening, where it would go, what it would mean. 

It’s strange to think that we can take comfort from this, but we can. Marcus Aurelius wanted us “to bear in mind constantly that all of this has happened before. And will happen again—the same plot from beginning to end, the identical staging.” Everyone who’s ever lived, including you, lived through history. They experienced the sausage being made—and that’s never pretty.

Realize that that’s what is going on right now. That’s what the Trump presidency is. That’s what COVID-19 is. That’s what climate change and Black Lives Matter protests and so many other things are. These are historical events and you’re living through them. It’s up to you whether you live through them passively, or actively. You have the chance to influence that history. Some of us in a big way, others in a smaller way. But we all have the opportunity to face them with proper Stoicism—which means not panicking, not betraying your principles, that means acting with courage, moderation, justice and wisdom.

P.S. This was originally sent on July 9, 2020. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.