Yesterday, 3 August 2020, was as good a day as any to Muse. Today, here is the completed version. In sharing it my thought is, it might just help someone else.
Yesterday I awoke to Stage 4 level Covid-19 restrictions, along with somewhere around 5 million other Australians, who also happen to reside in the greater city of Melbourne in the great state of Victoria.
I know self well enough I know the symbols and signs I knew early yesterday I was off kilter. I could feel the frustration (well short of anger I should add), the concern, the ‘oh really, another six weeks?’, the sense of being let down, the confusion, the uncertainty and haze that surround ‘the plan’ for our individual and collective futures. In short, I could see and feel the ‘pity-party-for-one’ getting prepared.
No, no, ‘young’ man. Shake that off. That will serve you or those around you no good. The day, today, and perhaps the week, may be written off for no good reason, and definitely for no return.
My course correction, consistent with how I have tackled the Covid-19 ‘sabbatical’ to date, open a book, find something to read and reflect on to help provide direction, meaning, an alternate or revised set of thoughts. Redirect that energy, quickly. Go!
I keep Ryan Holiday’s ‘The Daily Stoic’ not too far from my right hand. I am not zealous about it, nor have I converted to Stoicism, but to be sure there is often sound advice to be found in the Stoics. A week or so since my last leaf through, no point going too far back in time. Let me read though what I missed on 2 August.
“Indeed, how could exile be an obstacle to a person’s own cultivation, or to attaining virtue when noone has ever been cut off from learning or practicing what is needed, by exile?” (This quote is attributed to (Gaius) Musonius Rufus the 1st Century AD Roman Stoic philosopher, exiled during Nero’s reign.)
Okay, so, while restricted, again and further, I may feel a little exiled, yet I am not of course actually in exile, and I am certainly a long way from being cut off from learning or practicing what is needed. Holiday adds to the narrative; “Nothing can prevent us from learning, even if they are not the kinds of learning we’d have preferred.”
There’s hope for today, now.
So, to today, 3 August. The headline on that page of Holiday’s work: “THE GOOD LIFE IS ANYWHERE”. The allied meditation is a piece from Seneca’s Moral Letters, and Holiday’s accompanying narrative speaks to self-deceit, and ends with this piece of counsel.
“It’s far better that we become pragmatic and adaptable — able to do what we need to do anywhere, anytime. The place to do your work, to live the good life, is here.”
Hmmmm, so covid-19 restrictions don’t prevent me from learning, pragmatism and adaptability are well familiar to me, and I can do what I need to do anywhere, anytime.
Cancel that pity-party, I have things to do today. But, I am still wrestling with some stuff about the current predicament.
Next stop on today’s course correction then is an opinion piece in a national daily, the headline of which had caught my eye. “Hysteria and fearmongering are undermining our rational response to the coronavirus crisis.” I have never been a fan of hysteria and fearmongering, much preferring rational and reasoned thought, space to think and deliberate, and the considered conversation that often follows.
The headline of the article was enough for me to hope that perhaps beyond the hype, the frenzy, the misinformation, the daily case numbers, and the media saturation and magnification, there is something more. The article, written by a journalist I rarely agree with, arrived at just the right time, and spoke clearly to me today. It articulated (that which I have extracted below) far more eloquently than I had hitherto been able to, some of the issues, the concerns, the frustrations, that not much earlier threatened to destabilise my day, if not my week, and perhaps even the next six weeks. I drew some comfort that these are not just my issues.
I have been troubled by the absence of broader rational policy debate:
“Yet surely the news media’s addiction to sensationalism and living in the moment has hindered rather than helped our response. At the very least, it has failed, so far, to foster the crucial, rational policy debate required…. What is largely missing from the national debate is not heartlessness but rational consideration.”
The daily hyped narrative wears me out, and I think it is largely unhelpful per se, and potentially quite damaging to people’s general state of being:
“News reports have been replete with references to “deadly”, “hell”, “nightmare”, and “horror” — we have been hit by a “second wave” and the virus has been “out of control”. When you compare our experience with most nations overseas, none of these terms seems applicable. To be fair, journalists have a plausible excuse for using such inflammatory language — politicians, especially premiers, have been communicating in these terms.
My personality profiling and career preference type test results generally have me prone to taking a longer-term, pragmatic, more strategic view of things, and so short-term ‘nowism’ invariably opens and leaves a gap for me. It creates yearn. I have been craving more than the daily case count and the hyper-reality that surrounds it, searching for the medium term conversation and plan, and doing my small part to try and encourage, if not provoke, others to ask the same questions:
“Along with the media, our politicians also seem to be adopting a short-term view of the pandemic response. There is scant consideration about where we will be in six months or a year. We cannot and will not continue to live like this. This is not just a matter of economics — although, to be sure, we cannot possibly afford another six months like this — but as a society we cannot function like this, with people surrendering social contact, enduring isolation, depression and career and education disruption.”
As well as being informed of rules and restrictions over the next days and weeks and all that’s related inclusive of fines and sanctions, I (and I’d muse so far as to say, we all) want to know what’s the plan for living with this thing well into the future:
“Our media, if not our politicians, needs to foster a serious debate about how we live with the virus. Instead, we have hysteria and fear generated around every outbreak, based on the pretence that we can make it go away.”
Okay, so by now it is mid-morning 3 August 2020. Where at day’s start I was feeling rather unsettled, confused and annoyed, I have managed to change the course of my day. How? A couple of doses of The Daily Stoic, drawn from wisdom prescribed centuries ago, suggesting nothing can prevent me from learning today, I can adapt and do what I need to do today, pragmatically, from right here. Add a current daily opinion piece that deals in the here and now, that in turn helps validate and tell me I am not alone in my thoughts.
I am re-set for today, and no doubt for some days to come.
What is the message in all of this? I will leave that to you the reader, but my sense is that it may include simple take outs such as, one day at a time, focus on today, and know that others are in the same situation. There’s likely something about not settling just for what you are being told. Question, challenge, debate, have a point of view, offer an opinion.
Next task for me today is to finish a presentation and workshop session drawing on “Assholes — A Theory” and exploring capitalism’s social promise. But I digress, next muse topic perhaps.
To close, given that I polished this muse earlier today, 4 August, I know you are wondering, what advice does The Daily Stoic have for you and I this fine day? Let’s find out.
Headline NO BLAME, JUST FOCUS. A meditation from Epictetus’s Discourse proposing not to lay blame, to shift avoidance to what lies within your reasoned choice, and to no longer feel anger, resentment, envy or regret.
Lockdown or no lockdown, pandemic or no pandemic, no blame, no anger, no regret. Just focus (and keep asking questions and searching for reasoned, rational debate).
If you are interested in Chris Kenny’s piece in The Australian that I referenced and extracted from, hopefully this link will take you to it. I am a subscriber though, so you may not get the article in full.