2020 has probably not been the year any of us were expecting. I think I recall even a bit of euphoria as 2019 ended—thinking about the wonders of a new decade. BUT now, it’s pretty safe to say no one entered 2020 expecting an impeachment, a pandemic, riots, murder hornets, earthquakes, fires, multiple hurricanes, record-setting unemployment, a contested election, whales swallowing kayakers and who knows what else each of us has faced or is facing. It’s been so nuts—wikipedia actually has a running list of all the crazy
I do recall several pundits saying things like—this or that in 2020 is unprecedented, but I am not sure that’s true. I mean sure—it’s been a rough year— but is it really so bad? I mean—think about it and ponder 1865—-sure none of us were alive, but things were pretty rough.
The President assassinated, the Civil War coming to an end, but the work to unite the country was daunting. Ponder the winter of 1777, the revolution looked to be turning around for a short time and then Valley Forge. We read a good bit of the stoics in our leadership courses and I have to ponder how bad many of the years were for them. Was it as bad as many of the years in Marcus Aurelius’s reign? Aurelius faced a myriad of issues, not to mention the Antonine Plague of 165 CE, a global pandemic with a mortality rate of between 2-3%, which began with flu-like symptoms until it escalated and became gruesome and painfully fatal. Millions were infected. Between 10 and 18 million people eventually died (which many believe ended his life as well). Ponder the years at the end of Nero’s reign? And then there was 1919—when the world was mopping up after the Great War just as another pandemic spanned the globe. And… 1968—right on the heals of the 1967 Summer of Love— in ’68 we had civil unrest, terrorist bombings and a major influenza (H3N2 virus) outbreak on top of all the rest.
Of course, this is not to dismiss or make light of any of the troubles we are all facing. Things are nuts—no one can deny that. I would just offer that in reading the Stoics they might simply point out these other examples to help us see that we still have options left. There is still room to maneuver—all is not lost.
I believe the Stoics would want us to have perspective and also to grasp this simple truth: Humanity will either survive this or we won’t (pretty sure we are going to make it). Things looked dark in 180 AD, in 1777, in 1865, in 1919, 1968, and in 2009. AND—humanity made it through, we survived and in the end—we thrived.
Maybe this hasn’t been a bad year. Maybe it’s just been another year. A year more like some others and less like some others. But it is what it is. We don’t control what it has been, but we have some influence over where it’s going—there’s still a bit more 2020 left to play. So let’s focus on that.
It’ll get better–or as Marcus quips in Meditations, it won’t and we won’t be around to worry about it anymore.