This post is a journal entry directed toward me. It’s a reminder to myself of how my thinking has changed–or at least is changing–for the better during the course of this pandemic. It’s not meant to be a handbook for how you should deal with the coronavirus, or quarantine, or lockdowns, or economic uncertainty. It’s not meant to minimize the virus, or any of the real effects of COVID on families across the world. If it’s anything at all, I hope it’s an encouragement to you that you do have some things you can control, even in a global pandemic.
As Wendell Phillips said, defeat is “nothing but an education; nothing but the first steps to something better.”
Let this pandemic give me–and us–an education.
- Don’t let COVID be an excuse.
I am wired to take the path of least resistance. If COVID can be a convenient excuse for me not to do something I should be doing, I’ll use it. We are blame machines. If we can use a worldwide pandemic to excuse our poor habits and behaviors, we will find a way to blame the virus. Don’t let COVID be an excuse to avoid working out, or to eat poorly. Don’t let it be an excuse to under-perform at work, or neglect your family. Take ownership of your world & everything in it, have a little discipline, and watch how COVID can become an opportunity to grow instead of an excuse for inactivity.
As Robert Frost so elegantly put it:
He says the best way out is always through
And I agree to that, or in so far
As I can see no way out but through.
2. Don’t watch the news (ever).
I’ve found that watching the news is one of the worst possible things I can do for myself. It never affects me in a positive manner. Everything is either negative or sensationalized for ratings.
“But I need information about the pandemic,” you say. You actually don’t, at least not from the news. Hearing case numbers or death counts isn’t generally changing what you do every day. It’s just making you more anxiety-ridden than you already are. You can read about state/local guidelines or mandates on the internet right after they are announced. That will save you the useless commentary of news anchors who know nothing more than you do.
3. Don’t dwell on an uncertain future.
We love to dwell on terrible things that could possibly happen, giving them space inside of our heads for as long as possible. In doing so, we destroy any chance of happiness or contentment in the present.
Marcus Aurelius, the noted Stoic philosopher, once said that each person had the same amount to lose: the present. You can’t lose the past, because it is already gone. You can’t lose the future, because you can’t lose something that you do not already possess. But you can lose the present by not living in it and sacrificing it to the gods of chaos and uncertainty.
As the Gospel of Matthew states so succinctly, “Do not worry about your life. Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Willingly accept the present moment and the present happenings of the moment. Take them for what they are, without worrying about abstract eventualities. You can’t control them anyways. Then boldly move forward with your present life.
4. Don’t ascribe motives to others’ behavior.
During COVID, it’s been tempting to assign motives to the actions of others.
“That person is not wearing a mask, so they aren’t loving their neighbor.”
“That person isn’t coming to the party because they are living in fear.”
“That person hasn’t come to church in six months because they don’t trust that God will protect them.”
Written out in black and white, these seem ridiculous, but assumptions about others’ behaviors dominate our thoughts. People are complex, and their reasons for doing, or not doing, things are even more complex. I’ve found that it is most freeing to take people at face value, assume the best about actions and intentions, and move forward boldly and with conviction in your own life.
Not everyone will agree with your course of action, but your job is not to get people to agree with you or obey you (certainly not over social media). Incredible people fall on just about every ideological side of every possible COVID issue, so let your thoughts and actions be grace-filled, and walk with humility as you seek to understand those around you.
COVID is a harsh reality of life. It has happened, and we can’t control it. But, as our old friend Marcus Aurelius says:
Does what happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness?
It might have so far, but it shouldn’t going forward.