Marcus Aurelius stoicism and COVID-19 epidemic

Marcus Aurelius stoicism and COVID-19 epidemic

Mar 18th, 2020

Marcus Aurelius stoicism and COVID-19 epidemic reactions are deeply linked.

As famously stated by Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and philosopher: “Things do not touch the soul.” Also, for example: “Focus on what you can act, the rest is negative noise.” These deceptively simple statements are keystones of the Stoic philosophy.

Marcus Aurelius meant that we are not victims of events, people, or things, but by the opinions we form of them. As he put it, “our perturbations come only from the opinion which is within.”

One of the central teachings of Stoicism is to focus on things that are in our power. To avoid worrying about things over which we have little or no control.

And what is in our power?

Here are a few examples:

And now a few counterexamples:

  • the opinions others have of us, including their praise, insults, and gossip.
  • the long list of potentially divergent catastrophes and disasters: tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, lightning strikes, and, yes — viral outbreaks and pandemics that would occur in divergent manner with respect to historic behavior.

So, what can we do?

While we were working at the GICHD helping them writing the MANUAL MINE CLEARANCE Risk Assessment and Risk Management of Mined Areas, an expert in Improvised Explosive Devices said: “when you undertake to neutralize a device, either you’re successful and you keep everyone safe, or, very suddenly it isn’t your problem anymore.”

I had never thought about it this way. Analyzing and controlling whatever we can and not dwelling on the specifics which would derail our ability to think clearly and rationally is paramount. The way forward is about the actionable items, and only those. So, it is not about knowing all the details of all the different potentially divergent hazards, but about understanding the best mitigative compromises that deliver the best mitigation. That’s the reason why we call our platform ORE, as Optimum Risk Estimates. ORE allows to plan strategic and tactical mitigation roadmaps. While we have no control over lightning strikes, installing a lightning rod is an actionable item, a mitigation, that is totally within reach and everyone sees as a good-sense idea. Difficulties arises when dozens of hazards impinge on many assets and we require a sensible, rational roadmap. That’s ORE raison d’etre.

COVID-19 and information hygiene by WHO

The World Health Organization -WHO- has published “guidelines” to manage anxiety and stress during the COVID-19 crisis. They strongly relate Marcus Aurelius view and the lighting rod above. For example:

  • Take care of yourself, your friends, and your family.
  • Help others cope with their stress to fortify your community.

So, what can we do? For example:

  • Reduce time spent on social media and the various news outlets.
  • Take care of our soul and body. Physical and mental hygiene are paramount and exercising, even at home, is a great mitigation.
  • Use this time to unwind and plan for the future.
  • Connect with others but avoid intoxicating talks.

In our day-to-day operations as risk manager we consider the list above helps reducing the overwhelming syndrome. It is indeed counterproductive overwhelm ourselves with news that disrupt our ability to think clearly, ethically, and fulfill our obligations as citizens.

Having at hand a convergent multi-hazard risk assessment brings significant benefits. It needs to propose actionable items and put you in control. Everything else is noise.  Treat it as such.

Closing remarks

Stay home, wash your hands, and try to avoid information overloads by applying a good information hygiene.

As for risk assessments for your operations, if the extant ones do not yield clear actionable items roadmaps, you should start fresh.

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Category: Consequences, Crisis management, Hazard, Mitigations, Optimum Risk Estimates, Risk analysis, Risk management

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