How To Respond To Events Out of Your Control

You Don’t Have As Much Control As You Think

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Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

Life seemed stable. Christmas was only a few months ago. The merriment from time spent in the pub with friends is still vivid in the mind. We had no worries or gripes, we were just enjoying ourselves.

The day-to-day routine remained constant. Wake up, read a few articles, make some porridge and head to the gym for a workout. Then, return home and write for the remainder of the day. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was a routine that worked.

Then, we heard the news from China. A mysterious virus sweeping through parts of the country. Thousands infected, a hospital built from scratch within days. 57 million people quarantined.

A few weeks later, we heard stories of its spread to other countries, Italy, the USA, and finally, it was here in the UK. Still, what was happening in China felt a world away, as if it was in a parallel universe. It wouldn’t be the same here, surely?

But then, the cases started to pile up, the death toll started to mount. It was happening here too. Still, it felt surreal. The pubs were open, I could walk into the city centre and work in a cafe.

It wasn’t until they shut the pubs, the cafes and the shops, that it hit home. The virus really was here and it meant business. It’s only been a week, but what once felt normal, now feels like a routine from a bygone era.

The streets are empty. The roads are deserted and we all remain at home. Within a month, we have gone from a mild interest in what was happening into a full lockdown to stop the spread of an invisible nemesis.

They say a week is a long time in politics, but for all of us, every week feels like a lifetime.

No control

Events have advanced so quickly, it’s hard not to be taken aback by what’s happened. At the start of the year I hadn’t even heard of Coronavirus, three months later, the whole globe is in some form of lockdown to stop its spread.

Things that we have come to take for granted such as visiting friends, watching football matches and walking in the fresh morning air, have become luxuries.

I can’t remember anything like this in my lifetime. My parents are struggling to think of an equivalent event they experienced. No one knows what’s going to happen. No one knows how long it will be until we return to normal. No one knows if things will ever be normal again.

Yet, despite all the uncertainty and upheaval, I feel an odd sense of peace. What happens is beyond my control. The levers of power are far removed from my hand. All I can do is follow the advice given and hope for the best.

It’s all any of us can do unless you’re at the top level of government.

Humans like to be in control, or at least we like to think we are. What this crisis has shown is that we have a lot less control than we thought. The control we had was limited, and always under threat from events outside of our influence.

For the control freaks amongst us, this is disconcerting. The idea that the majority of us are mere players in this grand old game we call life, is uncomfortable. The idea of free will, that we control the destiny of our own lives, is an attractive one, but it is an illusion.

The reality is that we are at the mercy of events. Events, dear boy, events. They are in control, not us. We may not have control over what happens, but there is one thing we do have control over.

How we respond.

Your Response Is All That Matters

When events are outside of your control, the only thing you can influence is how you respond. It may not seem like much, but approaching it in this manner is beneficial.

By doing so, you are accepting that you are at the mercy of forces greater than yourself. Instead of obsessing over how you can dictate affairs, you realise that all you can do is dictate your response.

This is an uncomfortable thought for a lot of people, but it shouldn’t be. Instead, it should be a realisation that frees you. Realising how little you control events is a freeing experience which allows you to respond to them in a better manner.

The Coronavirus is unique in this aspect. The virus does not discriminate based on race, gender or political beliefs. It does not care whether you are rich or poor, none of these factors will save us.

No matter how much toilet paper you hoard, or conspiracy theories you peddle, you can still catch the virus. A quote from the great Stoic philosopher Epictetus sums up the choice all of us now face:

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…” — Epictetus, Discourses, 2.5.4–5

In a crisis such as this, it is only ourselves that we have control over. It doesn’t matter how others act, or what they do, all that matters is that you do what is right.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by events beyond your control. Seeing daily news reports of infections and deaths rising is enough to give anyone anxiety. Remember, you don’t need to follow the numbers obsessively. All you need to do is take appropriate action and put irrational thoughts aside.

Events such as this have happened before and they will happen again. That is a certainty. Another certainty is that we will all be likely faced with these choices again sometime in the near future.

At this moment, we may not be able to go to the pub, to socialise with our friends, or enjoy the morning air, but this will not last forever. The virus will eventually subside. A semblance of normality will return.

All we can do now is to stare down the threat we face and accept that the best way to beat it is to cede control and accept that we are merely pieces on a giant chessboard. We do not control what happens, we do not control the outcome, but do we control our own actions.

In times like these, that’s all you can do and it’s what you must do.

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