The Corona Virus is the newest upheaval of invisible war in contemporary times. Like a ruthless tornado, our tiny enemy has shaken our lives in various ways. Did you know, however, that through the art and philosophy of Stoicism we might be able to conquer fear and dismay, and take hold of our negative emotions due to these ravaging circumstances?
Stoicism is an ancient philosophy that dates back to 300 B.C. Being stoic implies that you can remain serene under pressure and turbulent situations, and additionally are able to avoid emotional extremes. However, it is as important to cultivate joy in our lives. This can only be achieved when we understand that it is just our thoughts and interpretations of things, we are able to control. Everything else we cannot handle. In modern times, this is called the Dichotomy of Control and often helps people alleviate stress.
We tend to overthink situations and overwhelm ourselves with the idea of having it worse, but we often suffer more in our imagination than in reality. For instance, we might have a high chance of surviving this crisis, yet worry, fear and anxiety drive many of us to the brink of insanity. According to the stoic philosophy, this fate is worse than death, and I’m sure many might agree, because to live in fear is not to live at all. This is why we need to let go of worry and the things we can’t control. Instead, we need to focus on, and take more responsibility for, our own actions.
The 4 Principles to Conduct a Better Life
To live in tranquility and happiness, even in times of the pandemic, in which everything seems unstable and unpredictable, we need to keep our mental health at its finest. Rather than imagining an ideal society and focusing on the “what if“ we should choose to deal with the world as it is now and strive to improve on ourselves.
Epictetus, a renowned stoic philosopher stated: „There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.“ Undoubtedly, we need to embrace our fate and we must view adversity rather as an opportunity to grow and practice virtue.
According to Stoicism, the four cardinal virtues to live a good life are wisdom— meaning the ability to handle complex situations on a logical, informed and calm manner; morality— treating others and yourself with rightness and fairness; courage— not just in extraordinary circumstances but facing daily challenges with clarity and integrity; and temperance— also known as moderation and self-restraint in all aspects of life.
Yes, times are hard but everything that we are going through right now is survivable. We are far more capable of enduring difficult situations than what we think. Many times we have caught ourselves in circumstances that we thought we would never overcome, yet we did. We are here, stronger than ever and open to whatever life throws at us.
Even though Stoicism focuses on personal improvement, it is not a self centered philosophy. According to Massimo Pigliucci, Professor of Philosophy and author of several books about Stoicism, the idea is that only people who have cultivated virtue and self control in themselves can bring positive changes in others. In other words, you have to help yourself first in order to help others.
Stoicism Through Generations
The teachings of Stoicism helped Marcus Aurelius, emperor of Rome from the year 161 to 180, write a book called The Meditations. In his manuscript, he recorded the moral and psychological advice he gave himself during times of military conflict and the Antonine Plague, which caused the death of 5 million people. He applied Stoic philosophy to the challenges of coping with pain, illness, anxiety, and loss.
Moreover, Aurelius‘ journals guided and comforted Nelson Mandela through his 27 year imprisonment. We have all heard of the famous activist for racial equality in South Africa. Mandela believed in the virtues of Stoicism and despite the years of unfair incarcelation and mistreatment he opted for peace and reconciliation. His people would then understand that even though the injustices of the past could not be changed, they could strive for a better and fairer future.
Finally, the Bubonic Plague, also known as the Black Death, was also an unprecedented human tragedy at the time. However it was an undeniable factor that lead to a remarkable new era in society: the Renaissance. People in this period started to feel, think and see things from a different perspective despite former calamities. For this reason, the world prospered in art, literature, science, politics, religion, among others.
We Stand Stoic Amidst Adversity
Even if Stoicism faded long ago as a formal institution, its influence continues in the present time. The best part of this philosophy is that once we learn how to be stoic, we can use it for any moment in life. Even if we don’t know when the worst will come, we do know that, in some point of our life, we will go through hardships. Stoicism teaches us to be prepared for these challenges and do better as we encounter them. Moreover, the study of this philosophy resonates strongly with modern psychology. The Rational Emotional Behavioral Therapy, for instance, focuses on changing the self-defeating attitudes people form about their life circumstances. Logotheraphy also conveys the idea that we can harness our will power to fill our lives with meaning even in the bleakest situations. We are currently facing yet another world crisis, so it is time to let our stoic selves develop.
If we come to ask ourselves questions such as: “What resources do I have that might help me to cope with the pandemic?” and “how have other people coped with similar situations?” we will come to realize that it is not the first time humanity has suffered from a crisis of this magnitude. Many times it has been worse! And if others have coped with it, there is no reason why we can’t either. Today we must stand together and overcome this as one united community.
Let’s view current world events with a more positive opportunistic appeal and retrain our brain. Let’s improve on ourselves and help others do the same. Let’s stand stoic against the Corona Virus and ultimately, let’s welcome future challenges with open arms.