It’s funny how quickly people swing back and forth.
When all this began, folks were excitedly using this time at home to tackle projects they’d long been putting off. They were focused on being productive, connecting with family, not letting the moment go to waste. There were Friday afternoon cocktails and family meals on Zoom; there were Master classes being taken; there was so much sourdough bread being baked.
Our friends cheered us on with all this: That’s a great attitude! Then as time went on, the mood began to falter and resolve began to weaken. What, they started saying, I’m supposed to make the most of the biggest catastrophe of my lifetime? I’m supposed to turn it into an opportunity for self-development? People are dying. Democracy is dying.
That’s the refrain from the new chorus. Those same friends who cheered on our sourdough have soured on everything: Yeah, you’re right! This isn’t fair! And so the momentary surge in empowerment reverts to defeatism and pity.
The Stoics would shake their heads: We don’t control what happens, we only control how we respond, they would say. That’s what this philosophy is. Marcus Aurelius defined flexibility and resilience as the ability to look a situation in the face and say, “You’re just what I was looking for.” The Stoics knew that the formula for greatness was the ability to turn obstacles into fuel, to see everything as an opportunity to do something.
No one is saying this isn’t a catastrophe. No one is saying this is fair. But what the Stoics are saying—as they always have—is deal with it. And so we must. Not in short bursts, but with sustainable energy and perseverance. With endurance and fortitude. With Churchill’s commitment to keep buggering on to the end.
Who knows how long this will go on. What we do know is that it’s here now. So let’s use it.