At the time of this writing, the planet is facing a rare, global challenge to its fortitude and composure. There is a new virus moving through populations where the details are uncertain, and many of the world’s top authorities have started switching their narrative from containment to mitigation.
That’s clearly bad, but how bad is it? And what should we do about it as groups and individuals?
The narratives from our core media—and especially in social media—have come in two, polar opposite forms.
- This is no different than diseases we already face on a daily and yearly basis. There’s nothing to worry about! If you just go about your daily routine everything will be fine.
- This is the big one. It’s killing so many people! Don’t believe anyone who tells you to be calm! Stock up as much as possible and prepare for the absolute worst.
The thing about reality is that it doesn’t care about narratives or positions. It doesn’t choose between one human-described extreme or the other. It usually lives happily and awkwardly in-between.
Luckily there’s a mindset that’s ideal for this not-so-neat reality that we usually face, and it’s called Stoicism, or—more generally—Resilience. There is much to be said about this approach to life, but one great capture comes from Seneca:
It does not matter what you bear, but how you bear it.
Stoicism is normally thought of as an ancient philosophy of not caring when bad things happen. But it isn’t actually about not acknowledging bad things, or not caring about them, or not reacting to them.
Stoicism is about reducing our negative emotions related to negative events so that we may endure them, persevere, and become stronger on the other side. It’s about acknowledging that bad things happen and being mentally prepared to handle them when they do.
Stoicism also stressed knowledge in addition to resilience. Becoming overwhelmed by challenges was to be avoided, but so too was ignorant bliss. But somehow, these seem like the only two options we have.
Our media are offering a false dichotomy of panic or denial. Prevention or Pandemic.
Security is a portmanteau of two Latin words—se, which means without, and cura, which means worry. It literally means to create an environment free of worry.
We don’t have to make that choice. Not with the spread of disease, and not with other types of security either.
Is terrorism an imminent threat or more like a meteor strike that you shouldn’t worry about? Is it possible to prevent the hacking of your business, or is it foolish to even try? Is it the end of the world if your private data is stolen, or is it not worth protecting that data in the first place?
When it comes to security, everywhere you look you see people trying to yank opinions to one extreme or the other. They’re either over-indexed on prevention, or they think apathy is a solution.
Resilience is a better way that’s guided by both knowledge and fortitude.
Resilience says yes—it’s best to prevent terrorism attacks, but that’s guaranteed to fail in many cases. But we can adjust our security based on the new attacks and we are a strong people. Our country will be ok.
Resilience says yes—it’s best to prevent cybersecurity attacks, but our business is still likely to get hacked. We’ll improve and move on, knowing it’ll eventually happen again. Our business will be ok.
To bear trials with a calm mind robs misfortune of its strength and burden.
And Resilience says yes—it’s best to prevent new diseases from spreading, but sometimes we can’t. We already live with lots of diseases that unfortunately kill a lot of people ever year. We will adjust to this one and improve, knowing that it’ll eventually happen again.
We. Will. Be. Ok.
Don’t let yourself into the trap of picking between prevention and panic, or doom and denial.
There’s a middle ground that’s far more healthy, which is greatly needed at this moment.
As Nassim Taleb said well, our goal should be:
…to transform fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.
Yes. It’s bad. It will be disruptive.
But it’s ok. No matter its impact, we’ll get through it.
That’s what we do.