What Existentialists Can Teach Us About Covid-19

Existential thinkers have a long history of poignant responses to crises, and there is probably no timelier exemplar than Albert Camus. In the closing pages of his 1948 masterwork The Plague (now on bestseller lists worldwide), Camus shows us just how significant and indeed essential even glimpses of inner freedom can be. Here is his insightful narrator, Dr. Rieux, commenting: “Among the heaps of corpses, the clanging bells of ambulances, the warnings of what goes by the name of fate, among unstinting waves of fear and agonized revolt, the horror that such things could be, always a great voice had been ringing in the ears of these forlorn, panicked people, a voice calling them back to the land of their desire, a homeland. It lay outside the walls of the stifled town, in the fragrant brushwood of the hills, free skies, and in the custody of love.”

While many of us may not share the inner freedom-nor eloquence-of the great existentialists, we can, to the extent possible, apply their chief teachings. Among these are first, recognize your ability to define rather than be defined by the circumstances that beset you; second, draw on your inner life-your memories, your imagination, your thoughts, and your feelings-to broaden your capacity to respond to rather than merely react against adversity; and three, connect with that which you love, for there is almost always something or somebody to remind us of life’s awesomeness, even in the most trying hours.

Posted by and with Dr. Schneider's permission. Excerpted from Psychology Today online, 5/12/20: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/awakening-awe/202005/what-existentialists-can-teach-us-about-covid-19

— Kirk Schneider, Ph.D.


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