While I’ve been navigating the COVID-19 and shelter in place experience, I decided to review some of the writings from the Stoic Philosophy. During my inquiry, I was reminded that throughout human history, there has always been adversity. There have been wars, plagues, and natural disasters that have led to challenging times, suffering, and death. The Stoics, who originated in ancient Greece, had more than their fair share of hardship. However, dealing with the difficulties of life was at the core of their philosophy, and during times of considerable uncertainty, many people worry about their lives coming apart. Such concerns are not unwarranted. After all, the prospect of not knowing where a sudden disruption or change can lead to can be nerve-wracking.
The Stoics had simple yet profound approaches as to how to deal with a dramatic change in external circumstances, and how to be at peace despite hardship and a possible troubled future. One of their approaches was to make a distinction between basic needs and luxuries; then to realize that the luxuries we believe we must have don’t necessarily lead to happiness or fulfillment. When challenging times come a-knockin’, we have greater clarity as to what our priorities are, and can release those things that are not needed for our well-being or happiness.
Also, the Stoics advanced the notion that in order to substantially reduce worry as one goes through unpredictable times, it is essential to know the difference between what you can control and what is beyond your control. Specifically, Stoic philosophy holds that the only thing we can control is ourselves and our actions. Put another way, things may happen to us and around us, but the only thing we can control is what happens in us and how we respond to what happens. We don’t deny that we go through challenging or intense times, but we can determine how we look at such times and what our response will be.
It’s not necessarily easy, but we can always look at tough times as an opportunity to reveal our resiliency and our strength of character. As the statement goes, "Tough times create tough people.” They also can bring out our creativity and ingenuity. As the writer and poet William Arthur Ward noted, “Adversity causes some people to break; others to break records." As individuals who come from divine stuff, we are here to break records, make breakthroughs, and reveal the spiritual power of our character. Our character ultimately determines the destiny of our life, our communities, our nation, and our world. We can use this time to up-level and forge a new character for ourselves.
We can look at challenging times and say to ourselves:
“I’m forging character."
"I'm going to grow, develop, and unfold to be my best self."
"I'm going to shift my attitude to one of upliftment, inspiration, gratitude, and thanksgiving.”
All of these attributes become part of your character. When that happens, your destiny changes. We have control over how we think - and what we believe - about our circumstances, and are not at the mercy of them. As Howard Schultz, former head of Starbucks, noted, "During times of adversity and change, we discover who we are and what we are made of.” What we are made of are all the qualities of the Divine. And there is nothing more powerful than that.
Peace and Blessings,