Everyone is either talking, thinking, or avoiding the subject of the Coronavirus epidemic.
Quarantines, social distancing and lockdowns are a few ways countries are dealing with this.
However, there are a few people that are not worried at all. What’s up with them?!
What is the difference between a Stoic and being stoic?
Before I go on, I need to clarify that being stoic is a personality characteristic. It describes someone who appears emotionless or calm.
This definition is in contrast to a Stoic, which refers to a person that follows the Stoic philosophy principles.
A Stoic can indeed be emotional, unlike being stoic, in three ways¹:
- General joy or gladness.
- Desire to help others and ourself through friendship, kindness, goodwill.
- Dislike of vices by expressing conscience, honour, dignity, integrity.
Stoic ethics involves cultivating this natural affection towards other people in accord with virtues like justice, fairness and kindness. – Donald Robertson
* You can tell if a modern text talks about one or the other by the context of the sentence or by noticing if the word is capitalised or not.
The Stoic philosophy, in a few words, differentiated between “good”, “bad”, and “indifferent” things/situations:
- The good things include the virtues (arete: excellence of character²) of wisdom, justice, courage and self-discipline/moderation.
- The bad include vices. These are folly (irrationality), injustice, cowardice and indulgence.
- Indifferent are things like wealth, pain, winning, reputation. In general, social, material and physical advantages or disadvantages.
NOW, let’s get back to the initial question: What’s up with the people that aren’t worried at all about the epidemic?
The types of reactions to the epidemic
You know these people. The crazy buyers, the conspiracy theorists, the “loud” ones, but in reality …the scared ones.
These are the people that will go to extremes because they feel overwhelmed by all the advise and instructions available out there. They end up doing EVERYTHING they heard, saw or think about.
“Prepared for all scenarios”, “I’m woke” are a few things that they say.
And this is what makes them emotional and very toxic for the community in times of crisis.
They make the doctors’ work harder by making the general public question the motives of all scientists, including doctors that are being sacrificed.
The focus of people is split between the experts and these “loud” ones.
Let them have their moment and don’t let their words and toxicity get to you.
You cannot reason with them.
The worriers are the people that are confused.
They are overwhelmed by the information just like the ones that panic, but they think more than they act. They internalise.
It’s the people that overanalyse and focus equally on all the information that crosses their path.
That includes information from media, scientists, religious leaders, ancient predictions and their neighbours.
They “wish” that this would end soon.
They are aware of what is happening around them but choose to act like nothing has changed since the covid-19 global epidemic reached their country.
These people are as toxic as the ones that panic because even though they feel like they are in control, they actually exist on the opposite extreme of the spectrum.
Their behaviour actually hinders the epidemiologists’ efforts to reduce the speed of the spread and are actually one of the main reasons the healthcare systems are crashing.
If you are told that you are “overreacting” by staying home to minimize the spread, then you’re probably talking to a person like this.
Some don’t believe that there is a reason to bother and feel like they shouldn’t have to stop socialising.
These are the people that will bring the virus back home to their families.
These are the people that follow the data, read published research of experts and react based on that.
Scientific findings are what they focus on.
Coupled with official updates concerning the measures their government is taking to control the coronavirus epidemic.
Not much can make them panic because they take no notice to unscientific approaches to the issue.
These people are cautious and follow the advice of doctors.
They are aware but not focused on theories about the creation, spread and elimination of the virus.
How Stoicism is helping people around the world cope with the covid-19 epidemic
A very important aspect of the Stoic philosophy is a high awareness of mortality.
Something happens in your brain chemistry.
You tend to focus on what you love doing, your people and on solutions to problems.
You appear more positive, but in reality, you’re just pragmatic.
Surrounded by fleeting moments of sadness and happiness, you know how important “feeling” the moment to the fullest is.
Once you accept that death may visit you at any given moment, you tend to live your everyday life honestly and without regrets. – Donald Robertson
Another strong aspect of the Stoic philosophy is strong values.
Self-discipline helps in following the advice of experts and avoid being affected by baseless theories and mob chaos. In short, master your fears so that you have a clearer mind.
Courage is what keeps you strong in order to help and support your loved ones. Especially the vulnerable ones around you.
It’s what keeps everyone around you calm, safe and sane.
They depend on you.
Wisdom is very important in an epidemic.
It is the ability to be critical of all the data you are presented by scientific sources like biologists, sociologists, doctors, epidemiologists and to sort what is proven and logical with what is speculation or a fictional story that appeals to the masses.
Justice is the fairness with which you treat people and expect to be treated.
This is something that is worth the most when practised away from people’s eyes.
This requires critical thinking paired with an awareness of the local laws.
The laws don’t always reflect what an individual might view as fair and this is how leaders and pioneers are born.
Who is helping the Virus spread faster?
Governments delay in taking measures, people unknowingly spreading the virus, others don’t care no matter their age or good health.
There are many that could be blamed, but it comes down to the Stoic vices:
Irrationality is not being critical of the information/data that you have been provided with and instead focusing on what resonates better to yourself.
That could be theories, unofficial stories, selective media coverage etc.
Cowardice is when a person freezes in fear of what could happen.
It is choosing not to act, or to hide behind a person or regulation.
Injustice is seeing something that is wrong and proceeding to support it directly or indirectly.
Indulgence is looking for what makes yourself happy and satisfied, at a time that collectivity is what extends human life.
No matter your economic school of thought, anthropologically, the human race survived due to collectivity.
The weak ones prepare food in exchange for protection from the strong ones in the group. The smart ones work in bettering life quality in exchange for food found by hunters, etc.
The more individualistic you are in times of crisis, the fewer chances you have of survival.
Fast forward to modern times, when all the old people die, do you believe that parents will be supported by the government when there is nowhere to leave the kids due to lack of funds?
Or will the emotional trauma of abandoning their parents to die alone in severe pain without medication be something that can be easily forgotten by our emotional human brain?
What you should not think about the next few months
Thinking of “what if” and what is happening outside your home and your control.
Analysing everything will overwhelm you. It’s pointless to do so, since there is nothing you can do to help the experts, except stay home to minimize the spread that will overwhelm the hospitals.
Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations³
Don’t let loose no matter how comfortable it may be. Instead, have a routine, make sure to wash and dress up every day.
And cook fresh food, however simple it may be prepared.
Set daily goals to learn something or a project you always wanted to try out.
A man’s worth is no greater than the worth of his ambitions. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations³
Don’t neglect your basic human needs.
Don’t worry about shopping. The government will let you know if there is a lockdown and you probably already have everything that you need for some time. There is no justified reason for you to worry about shopping. NONE.
Don’t focus on what media outlets or the numbers say. Check it once a day for a few minutes and go about your day.
If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations³
Being stressed weakens your immune system, so avoid that by doing everything you can to be happy, positive and active.
Try to notice when your vices are taking over and shift that mindset.
Practice being a better person to yourself and others.
¹ Robertson Donald, How To Think Like A Roman Emperor, First edition April 2019, St. Martin’s Press.
² Dobbin Robert, Epictetus: Discourses and Selected Writings, 24th edition 2008, Penguin Classics.
³ All the quotes are from Martin Hammond’s english translation of the Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. It’s worth a read if you like the quotes and are not a fan of bulky texts.
* Note: These are books that I wanted to share with you in case you wanted to explore these ideas further. This article does not include any affiliate links.
Stoicism helps us give notice to the available paths on how to live a happy, productive and fulfilling life. Do you agree?
One thought on “Stoicism and the Corona virus epidemic”
Enjoyed reading this article on Corona virus ,as I enjoy your other articles I read . Exciting and educational. Thank you.