If you look out at the world right now, what you’ll see at first glance is a pretty terrible picture of desperation. Steep market declines. Fear. Panic. Unemployment. People in hospitals. Leaders who have fallen down on the job at every level of government, who actually feel no shame, saying things like, “I don’t take responsibility at all.”
But if you choose to be a bit more deliberate about how you look, you might see something else—a pretty amazing picture of dedication. You’ll see front-line responders working such long shifts that their faces are creased with indentations from their masks and shields. You’ll see doctors staying away from their own families, exposing themselves to the virus as they treat countless patients, just trying to make a difference. You’ll see members of the armed forces, stationed all over the world, helping people of all nationalities. You’ll see people putting out supply depots in their front yards. You’ll see ordinary folks checking on neighbors, supporting local businesses from afar, staying home to help flatten the curve.
There is a lot to be scared and disappointed about right now. There is a lot to be angry about—particularly at leaders who have betrayed our trust and neglected their duties. But there is also a lot to be encouraged about. The good thing about crises is that they are opportunities for heroes. They show the worst… and the best that is in us.
So how will you choose to see the world today? Who will you look for and to? Which handle—to borrow Epictetus’ phrase—will you choose to grab as your grapple with the reality of what is happening? Because one handle will make you despair, the other will give you hope. One inspires you to be better, the other only makes you angry.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news,” Mr Rogers famously said, “my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
The Stoics remind us that we can only choose what we focus on. We can choose what we see. And most important, we can choose whose example we are going to follow in—what picture we are going to help paint.
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