Some weeks ago, Todd from Canada kindly bought me three coffees and made me a very interesting question about my views on Stoicism.
Did the pandemic change your views or do you look back at ur comments and still agree with what you originally wrote?
The pandemic has changed us all. Nobody’s been spared. We’ve all suffered something, from losing some of our family members or friends, to being isolated.
I lost my grandma, but was luckier than most. We’ve all gone through some form of mourning or alienation, though. While things are slowly getting back to normal, we’ve spent two years in that nightmarish standstill, not knowing if we’d ever be able to feel
It has affected our lives, our friendships, our work, and even our relationships.
How Did The Pandemic Affect Me?
Spain was one of the countries that were hit by the pandemic the hardest. A lot of people lost their beloved ones overnight. Their parents, grandparents, and friends. I was lucky. My father’s mom passed away, but as I mention on my book, Less, I barely knew her, so her death did not really affect me much. Both my parents and my other grandma (which I love) were spared, got their shots, and are safe and healthy now.
However, my husband and I had to deal with isolation. When the pandemic reached its climax in Europe, in the spring of 2020, we had just crossed the Bulgarian border, arriving from Serbia. The next day, Bulgaria closed its frontiers and travel came to a halt, and some days later, the first lockdown was declared.
Being trapped after just arriving to a new city is hard. We knew nothing about the country, the local laws, the people, or the language. We basically spent the first month trapped inside our apartment. Dealing with isolation, and not being able to be with our families during those hard moments was really hard for us. That, of course, is nothing compared to the suffering a lot of less privileged people had to deal with. We are thankful.
As the pandemic unrolled, Bulgaria was fortunately one of the best places to be. The country never took the pandemic seriously and measures there were quite lax. Soon we were able to get outside, go for a walk on the park or even have dinner at a restaurant or cafe.
The worst moments of the pandemic for us happened when my mother in law got sick and we had to travel back to Madrid, still unvaccinated. During the trip I got COVID, which I found out after getting the results of the PCR test to fly back to Sofia. That was no surprise, as many people were not wearing masks during the flight to Madrid, or even at the airport.
Fortunately, I had no symptoms, but I ended up alone, quarantined in a small apartment in an ugly suburb of Madrid. Soon after, Miguel and his mom got sick too. Seeing how my husband’s mom was treated (basically left to die and ignored by an overwhelmed healthcare system) was sickening. My husband fared much worse than I and ended up in the hospital. We went through some nightmarish experiences I won’t tell here.
How Did The Response To The Pandemic Affect Me?
But the Spanish public healthcare system and the humanity of doctors, nurses, and ambulance drivers was not the only thing lost during the pandemic.
The pandemic showed me how selfish and ignorant people are. That may sound like an unfairly bitter statement, but let’s be honest, it’s the truth. I don’t believe in absolute truths anyway, so it is, at least, the truth I experienced.
From youngsters refusing to wear the mask on a train full of elder people or when entering a cafe for two f*****g minutes to people not wanting to get vaccinated. From religion to conspiracy theories, from politicians claiming that the elderly should sacrifice for the economy to teenagers affirming that as long as they can continue partying, they don’t care if people die.
Once my own sister told me that, as an atheist, I was an amoral person. Without religion, she said, how could I have proper values that guided my actions?
Well, I’ve always considered myself a good person. That’s as subjective as it gets. We all think we are good people. However, I like to think I live by Kant’s Imperative. Treat others like you’d like to be treated. Wear the mask because… come’on, it’s not so hard, especially if it’s just two minutes, and you may be saving a life. Get vaccinated, because that’s how we’ve managed to win over illnesses, through solidarity, and trusting science.
So What Happened?
As these demonstrations of public stupidity and selfishness became more ubiquitous, I reacted by going in the opposite direction. I wore a mask everywhere I had to, even at the gym and got vaccinated as soon as I could, even if it was difficult for us as foreigners in a mostly-negationist country.
I did what I considered was the right thing to do. But of course that didn’t change anything, which made me feel resented and angry with the world. I could not understand why people could not just put a little bit of effort for the common good.
I’ve never believed in the fairness of the universe, karma, god, or any other force that is supposed to keep things fair. I never bought that illusion depicted in many books and films that tells you that good things happen to good people. That’s bullshit. But this display of total inability to act as a global community destroyed a bright part inside of me.
After that tiny shinny fragment of my soul died, I got into terms with the whole situation. I stopped waiting for people to think in anything other than themselves. I accepted that we are all on our own, and only care about ourselves. That was kind of a relief.
That of course made me more skeptic and cynic. But as the saying goes, a pessimist is just a well-informed optimist.
What About Stoicism?
The pandemic was a way of putting all I thought I’d learned into practice. Stoicism helped during the most confusing moments, when I didn’t understand anything about what was going on around me.
I failed to act in a Stoic way many times, of course. But I learned a lot, and all those passages I wrote about in 2018 helped me go through the pandemic.
Eventually, they were the main force behind the mindset change that made me be at peace with everything. All the selfishness, idiocy, obscurantism, fake news, anti-vax protests, conspiracy theories, all the people who just didn’t care about the others… I simply realized all that was outside of my control. And it had been like this even before. The pandemic had only revealed it. So I just accepted it.
The very first lesson of Stoicism is understanding the difference between what’s inside your control zone and what isn’t. Buddhism also tells you that falsely believing you can control these things lead to unhappiness.
Before the pandemic, I would sometimes see a random act of kindness every now and then. Those small gestures of goodness brightened up my day. Nowadays, I hardly see them. That is something I still can’t help but miss. Regardless, I still do them myself whenever I’ve got the chance.
I stand by most of the things I wrote during the daily stoic journey. But maybe, just maybe, from a less cheerful, more cautious standpoint.
And that’s a good conclusion, though. No matter how disenchanted, skeptic or cynic I’ve become. I still try to do what I think is right, even when I no longer expect anybody else to do the same.