The Covid 19 Coronavirus has had a massive effect on economic systems around the world. Massive layoffs have resulted with record numbers of individuals worldwide becoming unemployed.
For individuals facing unemployment it has an effect on the mindset. When someone loses their job for reasons beyond their control the first reaction may be anger and denial. If unemployment persists it may linger into depression.
Those who effectively deal with unemployment do it in two ways: acceptance and responding to it. The ancient Stoics had a practice that can help with this. It is called practicing poverty.
I am so firmly determined, however, to test the constancy of your mind that, drawing from the teachings of great men, I shall give you also a lesson: Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?” It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress, and it is while Fortune is kind that it should fortify itself against her violence. Seneca, Moral Letters 18.5-6
Many people who practice poverty have actually done this in their own lives. This includes sleeping on the floor, going without expensive foods and minimal clothing.
As Seneca writes this toughens the soul for whatever happens. This holds true for those facing unemployment. If you are facing unemployment due to the current economic downturn there are different ways practicing poverty can help.
To bear and forebear. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.33
This is a simple line in a larger passage in the book Meditations. But the two words in this simple phrase say a lot.
To bear with something means to be patient and tolerant. It may be something we are experiencing that we do not enjoy or are challenged by. Many people think that this is the essence of Stoicism. Too simply deal with the challenges, grit your teeth and deal with it.
But Stoicism is much more and is exemplified in the word forbearance. Forbearance means patient self-control, restraint and tolerance. It is a constant mindset that is fueled by series’ of challenges in life.
Practicing poverty does this. By entrenching yourself in a simulation of poverty you learn what it is like to face these situations. It further fortifies the reasoning mind to deal with future life challenges. Unemployment certainly qualifies as one of these challenges.
There is a great series of books called The Sharpe Series by author Bernard Cornwell. These were made into TV movies. The core setting of the series is Portugal and Spain in wars between Britain, Spain and their respective allies. The series of books details the main character Robert Sharpe and his progression in the British Army.
There is a scene in the first TV movie Sharpe’s Rifles where Sharpe meets the commanding general. The British Army is out of money. The general asks Sharpe what you do when you have no money. Sharpe responds that you do without.
Sharpe’s character grew up in poverty when young and knows what it is like to go without amenities. But practicing poverty helps us to understand the discipline of going without. We may or may not be forced into a lifestyle of spending less due to economic conditions. But we also have the ability to develop a disciplined mindset through our ruling faculty that externals are not what is important in life.
Don’t be disgusted, don’t give up, don’t be impatient if you do not carry out entirely conduct based in every detail upon right principles; but after a fall return again, and rejoice if most of your actions are worthier of human character. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.9
The Greek storyteller Aesop is credited with the quote “ gratitude turns what we have into enough”.
We have a tendency to focus on material possessions and the nice things in life. When people are faced with unemployment they have what is essentially a shock to the system that their ability to fuel their present lifestyle is gone.
It becomes time to make choices and decisions about what they can and need to do. Practicing Poverty helps individuals to show what they have in the present moment. Practicing poverty show what life would be like if you had nothing.
Turn this around and use this to show what you do have. Look at your network both personal and professional. Look at what opportunities are available to find work and move away from unemployment. Practicing poverty makes you think. Think about your baseline of income and resources. This is the foundation you move forward from.
Focus On What Is Important
When you get an external impression of some pleasure, guard yourself, as with impressions in general, against being carried away by it; nay, let the matter wait upon your leisure, and give yourself a little delay. Next think of the two periods of time, first, that in which you will enjoy your pleasure, and second, that in which, after the enjoyment is over, you will later repent and revile your own self; and set over against these two periods of time how much joy and self-satisfaction you will get if you refrain. However, if you feel that a suitable occasion has arisen to do the deed, be careful not to allow its enticement, and sweetness, and attractiveness to overcome you; but set over against all this the thought, how much better is the consciousness of having won a victory over it. Enchiridion 34
There is a popular TV show that has been running for the last 12 years called What Would You Do. People are set up in situations of adversity and potential conflict that requires bystanders to make a choice or decision about taking action in a scenario.
One consistent set-up is an individual in a store who is not able to pay their bill. Different scenarios are presented such as an elderly person on a fixed income or an out of work veteran with a family to feed. These situations show the character of bystanders.
Sometimes people are willing to pay that do not have much money themselves. Yet they are willing to help out because it is the right thing to do. Practicing poverty helps to focus on what is important. Maybe it is your family, friends or community. It shows that things like these are not a burden but what you are fighting for.
We admire walls veneered with a thin layer of marble, although we know the while what defects the marble conceals. We cheat our own eyesight, and when we have overlaid our ceilings with gold, what else is it but a lie in which we take such delight? For we know that beneath all this gilding there lurks some ugly wood. Nor is such superficial decoration spread merely over walls and ceilings; nay, all the famous men whom you see strutting about with head in air, have nothing but a gold-leaf prosperity. Look beneath, and you will know how much evil lies under that thin coating of titles. Seneca, Moral Letters 115.9
This section is based on my own use of practicing poverty. To me it has taught me better spending habits and not waste money on what is not necessary. When you develop a scenarios of living with nothing it proves the wastefulness of mindless spending.
People who are facing unemployment have to consider their habits with a loss of income. Many are eligible for benefits like Unemployment Insurance but even this means a reduction of income. Know what your bringing in, curb spending and develop an approach to cope with unemployment.
The future economic conditions are wracked with uncertainty. Many people seem to have been thrust into a life of chaos with the sudden loss of work. It becomes necessary to pause, put things in perspective in the present moment and take action through reasoned choices to meet upcoming obstacles.