As far back as 106-43 BC, Marcus Tullius Cicero, who was highly revered as an orator and philosopher in ancient Rome, identified six common failings or mistakes of his fellow man. He described them as follows:
- The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected
- Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it
- Refusing to set aside trivial preferences
- Neglecting development and refinement of the mind, and not acquiring the habit of reading and study
- Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do
- The illusion that personal gain is made up of crushing others
Isn’t it curious that what Cicero witnessed as typical or fundamental behaviour of man over two thousand years seems no different today. In the age of ‘Covid-19’, it is perhaps timely to consider how Cicero’s observations may help us to consider how we are currently living and relating in these unusual circumstances and how we can transform aspects of living from potential disaster into personal triumph. So lets review each of the mistakes Cicero had identified thousands of years ago, in turn, to explore the scope for improving some aspect of everyday living today:
The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected
How much of your day is spent catching up on the latest death toll or the horror stories surrounding the global crisis? And does this action enhance your capacity to manage life in lockdown or does it consistently ignite a flame of worry inside you about the global situation, outside of your immediate control. Whether you are aware of this or not, the more you expose yourself to negative “covid-related” news, the more you raise levels of internal anxiety about the situation – either consciously or unconsciously. Since worry, conscious and unconscious, triggers the body’s natural stress response, you can experience tremendous benefit simply by cutting back on the amount of time you might spend reading, listening or watching anything remotely negative concerning Covid-19. So, how might you manage your own exposure to the media ?
Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it
Like many other crisis occasions, the “Covid” situation will pass and lockdown will eventually be over. Although it may be difficult to imagine this happening whilst in the midst of social isolation, it may boost your sense of well-being to start visualising how you are going to be when lockdown is over. Consider the types of things that you are currently missing, that you will enjoy doing in the freer times ahead. Allow yourself some time to reflect on this, to expand your capacity to go beyond current constraints and allow your imagination to become a source of daily comfort, inspiration and support
Refusing to set aside trivial preferences
Perhaps you are feeling increasingly aggravated by others in your life as a result of the lockdown, limitations on external physical movement decreasing your opportunity to be alone. Do you find yourself clashing with others and experiencing feelings of anger or frustration developing over minor happenings? You could instead start to see current circumstances as an opportunity to learn how to ‘let go’ and respond to minor irritations in a positive, less toxic manner. If you can pinpoint some of the things that typically “trigger” you, you might try, first of all, to ask yourself how well your usual response works for you, i.e. whether it is effective. If not, you might consider whether it is worth carrying on with such responses and perhaps replace them with responses that are going to lead to a better outcome. Personal triggers often create defensiveness, anger, irritation or hurt which can lead the person affected to attack another or to defend themselves in some way. And for what purpose or gain – nothing most probably, just an unpleasant atmosphere and further negativity on top of what is already a stressful life. If you focus on creating more happiness and harmony amongst those you are living with at the moment, you might begin to realise personal benefits in learning to set aside trivial preferences and find that you can maintain a calmer and happier atmosphere within your home…
Neglecting development and refinement of the mind, and not acquiring the habit of reading and study
How are you looking after your mind during lockdown. Are you nurturing your mind with books and new information and creating opportunities to learn through games, courses or conversation. The mind is an immensely powerful and capable aspect of everyday life and yet, if under-stimulated, it may become bored and demotivated, uninspired and lethargic. Throughout life, your mind is excited by newness and always has further capacity to grow and develop than you might imagine. Being stimulated can really boost a person’s general outlook in life, helping to increase their levels of happiness and satisfaction. Is your mind feeling alive and excited with new things to do and learn at the moment or is life feeling a bit “samey” with every day barely distinguishable from another. If you’re not taking the opportunity provided by the current situation to develop and refine your mind, maybe this article will inspire you to see some potential here for yourself…
Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do
If you are in a family or relationship in lockdown or living with a group of friends or others, you may be noticing differences between you and you may find yourself dwelling on other peoples’ behaviour, trying to influence them to do things “your way.” The chances of being able to control other people in this way are slim and yet a great deal of your attention and energy may be expended in attempting to do so, especially given the lockdown situation. If this is resonating with you in a role of partner, parent, young adult or friend, you might want to reflect on the extent to which interpersonal situations are currently drawing energy away from you in this way. And whether this is a good use of your personal energy? If not, then why carry on. What needs to happen for you to use your personal energy in a more personally beneficial way….Possibly learning to let go of influencing others, having more acceptance about personal differences and focusing on living your own life as fully as you can….
The illusion that personal gain is made up of crushing others
This speaks of an underlying sense of competition that tends to exist among people even if they aren’t especially aware of it. More for some than others as they compare themselves to their peers and feel a desire to be better than, to impress or overwhelm. Maybe you recognise this tendency in some of your own behaviour in a social, personal or work setting. Being thoughtless of other people when you are feeling competitive, can lead to acts of unkindness and such behaviour does little to enhance your personal well-being. In fact it is more likely to increase your levels of stress and lead to negative outcomes rather than positive ones. There is much research today that illuminates the connection between positive psychology and personal well-being. Acts of kindness, wishing someone well in your thoughts, thinking encouraging thoughts about others and acknowledging positive aspects of others, are all ways in which you can enhance your sense of happiness and satisfaction. Becoming aware of your tendencies towards others is the first step towards change and once you start becoming aware, you can then begin to make better choices…
So these 6 very fundamental aspects of behaviour, that have been personal difficulties for mankind across the ages, may now become an opportunity for you to triumph during these unusual and challenging times, as you learn to avoid disastrous inter and intra-personal impact and seek to navigate new and potentially exciting and fulfilling individual territory instead.
The Hove Counselling Practice continues to offer online video, messaging and telephone therapy sessions during lockdown. We welcome your contact if you would like some support.