The world feels like a bad movie right now.
People are losing their jobs, people are falling seriously ill, and worst of all, people are dying. That’s the current reality of coronavirus/COVID-19.
Workplaces and schools have been deserted, bustling cities have been emptied, whole countries have been locked down.
Now, more than ever, it has been useful for me to look to Stoic values as a means of gaining perspective. In particular, this Epictetus line is key:
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.”
In this post I’d like to outline how the four cardinal virtues of Stoicism can be used as a guide at this time, provide some ideas on how you can help if you aren’t already on the front lines as a medical professional or other key worker (thank you!), and finally list some resources you might find useful while in isolation.
Advice from the World Health Organisation: Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority.
The Stoic Virtues
(Definitions courtesy of this article by Donald Robertson).
Stoic Definition: The knowledge of what is good and bad; the disposition by which we judge what is to be done and what is not to be done.
How To Apply Wisdom Now:
- Stay up to date with the latest World Health Organisation advice.
- Beware of misinformation – don’t spread or trust unverified reports and hearsay.
- Look out for the positive stories for light relief (Examples here, here and here).
Stoic Definition: Moderation of the soul concerning the desires and pleasures that normally occur in it; harmony and good discipline in the soul in respect of normal pleasures and pains.
How To Apply Self-Discipline Now:
- Stay at home – it will require all your discipline to postpone visits to relatives, especially elderly ones, but it is the kindest thing you can do for them right now.
- Wash your hands – the primary advice from the WHO is that washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that may be on your hands.
- Social distancing – maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth – if contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Practice respiratory hygiene – cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately.
Stoic Definition: The state of the soul which is unmoved by fear; self-restraint in the soul about what is fearful and terrible; boldness in obedience to wisdom; being intrepid in the face of death; force of fortitude in respect of virtue.
How To Apply Courage Now:
- Call out irresponsibility – gently remind those who aren’t following guidelines how their actions could impact others.
- Help others but only if it does not put them in danger.
- Don’t panic – be a calming influence for those who are worried.
Stoic Definition: The state that distributes to each person according to what is deserved; the state on account of which its possessor chooses what appears to him to be just.
How To Apply Justice Now:
- Don’t hoard or panic buy – this hurts other people who don’t have the time or money to do the same. Watch this video of a critical care nurse for some perspective:
- Similarly, don’t stock up on personal protective equipment that medical personnel sorely need. The WHO only recommends the use of masks if you have a cough, fever or difficulty breathing, or if you are taking care of a person with suspected infection. See here for their full guidance on masks.
How To Help
Here’s how you can volunteer to help and support others during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Look out for your neighbours
The simplest thing everyone can do right now is look out for their neighbours and offer help with shopping and other errands.
It’s not just about neighbours who are self-isolating or vulnerable. Other people in the community who might also appreciate help are:
- stretched medical staff and volunteers
- staff and volunteers in key worker roles
- supermarket workers
- delivery drivers.
Remember it’s a marathon not a sprint – your help will be even more crucial in a few weeks’ time. For now, the best thing to do is to check in on neighbours.
Stay safe when supporting others:
- Let family and friends know what you’re doing.
- Support family, friends and neighbours by phone or video call.
- Stay at least two metres – about three steps – away from people you’re helping.
- Offer to run errands for people but stay outside of people’s homes.
- Keep washing your hands often for 20 seconds.
- Don’t take on too much – it’s often better not to offer at all than to let someone down.
- If you’re trying to help someone with very serious issues – don’t be afraid to flag with appropriate statutory services.
There will be many causes that will be grateful for donations of money and supplies in the coming weeks. You may have local causes you’re planning to help but if you’re not sure, here are some ideas:
- Food banks will need even more donations than normal to cater for the vulnerable.
- The Flexport.org Fund exclusively focuses on supporting the sourcing and transport of supplies related to the coronavirus pandemic. (Global)
- Donate to your local health service or hospital – check online for how to do this correctly in your area.
Remember, as much as you may want to get out and help others, the safest thing to do if you’re in any doubt about your exposure to the virus (or if your opportunities to wash your hands while you’re out will be limited) is to stay at home.
Here are some ideas for constructive ways to use your time:
- Read some of the best Stoicism books.
- Complete some Stoic exercises (more to be added soon hopefully!)
- Catch up on Stoicism podcasts.
- Start a Stoic journal.
- Work through a daily challenge (a lot of these are very conducive to being at home).
- Check out this video from Donald Robertson:
- Stay connected to friends and relatives with regular phone calls and video chats.
- Help set up relevant technology for those who can’t (being careful to practice hand cleaning, respiratory hygiene, and social distancing while doing so).
- Get plenty of exercise at home.
- Learn a new creative pursuit or language, or revisit an old one.
- Tend to your garden if you have one.
- For an alternative list of ideas and resources check out this guide from Morning Brew.
I hope you’ve found this useful. Remember: stay home, wash your hands, stay safe – what we choose to do has consequences for others too.
“What is not good for the beehive is not good for the bee.”Marcus Aurelius