It’s almost surreal to think about the things we were thinking about not long ago. How could we have been so naive? So entitled? How could we have missed the signs?
Well, no matter, life has a way of letting you know that you’ve had your head up your own ass. And there is no other expression for what Western society, particularly but by no means limited to the progressive amongst us, has done to itself. Cultural appropriation. Micro-aggressions. The War on Christmas. Does square dancing have racist origins? Are unboxing videos bad for children? How dare that guy not stand for the national anthem?
“I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how some of the smartest minds in my world used to spend their days on laptops trying to cancel ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside,’ the writer Bari Weiss recently wrote, while “many women in this world still don’t have access to credit or tampons.” Unfortunately, this is not new. Marcus Aurelius described life in Rome as “pointless bustling of processions, opera arias, herds of sheep and cattle, military exercises, a bone flung to pet poodles, a little food in the fish tank.” The things people focus on… and what they miss by choosing to prioritize the wrong things.
There is not a lot of good in a pandemic but one thing it should do for us is remind us about what matters and what doesn’t. It should chasten us—how arrogant and silly the things we’ve been angry about seem to be. It should give us a sense of urgency—there are real issues out there, issues of serious injustice that we are obligated to address. It should give us a sense of purpose—we can die at any moment. Is this really what we want to spend our time on?
We have been decadent and stupid. We were sleepwalking through life. We were not prepared. Well, now we are experiencing the costs of those decisions. We can’t change that. But we can choose to stay awake now, and commit to not drifting off again. We can prioritize what matters, starting today. And what does matter?
Other people. Eliminating real suffering. Fulfilling our potential (and making sure everyone has the chance to do the same). Courage. Wisdom. Temperance. Justice.
P.S. For a tangible reminder of the Four Virtues that you can keep by your side, get your own Four Virtues medallion from the Daily Stoic web store—it features a beautiful design embodying the virtues (Courage, Wisdom, Temperance, Justice) on the front, and an admonition to “try not to exchange them for others” on the back.