What I was dreading the most has happened. They have closed gyms! I now, somehow, have to survive without my daily workouts – workouts that (I have convinced myself) help to keep me sane. We are all going to be tested during this time of crisis, and I totally accept that this imposed sacrifice is really quite trivial in the scheme of things, but it’s very much been a part of my life now for several years, and will be hard to live without. However, as there is nothing I can do about the closure, my only recourse is to meet this, and all the other tests that COVID19 will present, head on. Now, to help meet these tests I have elsewhere recommended a cocktail of Stoicism, community spirit, and red wine. And the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced of the efficacy of my advice.
I wrote a little about Stoicism a couple of weeks ago. Then I talked about acquiring the strength to change those things in life that can be changed, the resilience to accept those things that cannot be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference. I would now like to add an Aristotelian spin to this by suggesting that the path to achieving this is through the development of certain character traits. Now the obvious character traits requiring development here are psychological strength, emotional resilience, and good old fashioned wisdom, though, given the space would, I would make the case for several others. But let’s stick with these for now. The point I want to make is not so much what these character traits are, but how they are developed. For Aristotle they are developed through sheer hard work – through practice and repetition, through developing the right habits. In other words, it’s not a matter of just thinking about it, of saying to yourself “right, that’s it, from now on I’m going to be…”, but of trying to display these character traits at every opportunity, of accepting that sometimes (most times) we will fall short of who we are trying to become, but that success comes from constant repetition, from constant application.
To my thinking, the development of community spirit is more fundamental than most people acknowledge. It’s more, much more than that added sense of group endeavour achieved when individuals decide, in times of trouble or strife, to come together for the good of everyone. For me it’s more fundamental than our own individuality. We are, at our very core, part of a community. We can only develop a sense of individuality through interactions with others; it’s only by way of interactions with others that our sense of self develops in the first place. One of my biggest criticisms of capitalism, particularly its modern incarnation of neo-liberalism, is the centrality of the individual – the core belief in rational self-interest. Yes, we can be competitive and self-interested, but in evolutionary terms we were cooperative and group-interested first, and for a much longer period. We tend to forget this, and focus solely on our individuality. Even when we talk of community spirit we tend to think it in terms of individuals coming together rather than acknowledging how communities give rise to individuals in the first place. I think it would be of great benefit to us to acknowledge the primacy of the community.
And red wine? Well part of me thinks that any need to justify the drinking of this essential tonic suggests a problem, so let’s just accept its importance and move on. But as such an approach ruins my rhetorical use of a three part list let me simply refer to the 2019 album by the folk singer Kate Rusby – Philosophers, Poets and Kings. How literally should we take the lyrics of the title track that say that “if it wasn’t for red wine, we would not have philosophers, poets and kings”? Well I’m pretty sure that despite the examples she cites, particularly from amongst the ancients, by no meals all philosophers and poets have relied on the restorative and creative powers of red wine to produce their work. And becoming a king has far more to do with being born to ‘the right parents’ than it does to their consumption of their favourite bottle. But the other way to take this claim is at the personal level, that Kate Rusby would not have written the album “if it wasn’t for red wine” – and I’m pretty sure that she’s a fellow fan of the drink. And it’s a great album. So let’s raise a glass to creativity, and to a little something to take the edge of a hard day!