Covid 19: Fighting Virus with Virtue

No man is more unhappy than he who never faces adversity. For he is not permitted to prove himself. Seneca

Life has changed. Our internal enemies, our insecurities and worries, are no longer the greatest challenge we face. We have a powerful, new external enemy, the New Coronavirus. People are anxious and scared. There is good reason to feel this way. Our elders are at risk of death. If our health system is overburdened, middle-age people will risk death also.

It is frightening and so much seems out of our control. But luckily, the two things that are within our control happen to also be the two things proven to be most effective against this disease: Hand hygiene and social distancing. We may not be able to isolate ourselves fully but we all can improve in some small way avoiding becoming vessels for this disease’s transmission.

And what about our mental health, what can we do about that? Do we still have internal enemies? Yes, our internal enemies are now those personal weaknesses that hamper collective efforts to mitigate this disaster. Because we have the most power when we think collectively and work collectively. We are stronger together.

The ancient stoic philosophers considered that human nature is to be pro-social. Humans are unique and uniquely successful in our ability to act together in enormous numbers to get things done. Other mammals can work in groups of maybe 50 max. Humans can work, as one, in our billions.

The stoics also believed that hardships were an opportunity to practice virtue. Being virtuous is not asking “what should I do?”, but asking, “who should I be?”

And, this is what I am asking myself in the current crisis: How can I be a better version of myself? I answer: By disavowing three internal enemies that may rule my behaviour: The Denialist, the Fearmonger and the Cynic.

The Denialist

The Denialist changes as little of his life as possible. His reckless and cavalier attitude means that he is putting himself at risk of infection. But it is not the denialist who is likely to most suffer from his potentially super-spreading behaviour. It is our elders, who when the disease hits in earnest, will suffer for lack of respirators and appropriate medical care.

The Fearmonger

The Fearmonger fills conversations with the direst of predictions. Scanning the ubiquitous newsfeeds, he latches on to pessimistic outlooks and shares, shares, shares. Trying to co-opt others into his bleak perspective, he sows hopelessness amongst the population. The fearmonger is liable to hoard and panic buy. The fearmonger is liable to over-protect his own at expense of the collective.

The Cynic

The Cynic has read a few articles and is now an expert epidemiologist who knows exactly what the government and medical system are doing wrong. He also knows why they are doing it wrong – incompetence and excessive self-interest. He then rationalises his own self-interested actions (such as hoarding), safe in the knowledge that everyone else is doing the same thing.


In truth, all three of these modes reside within me. At various stages over the last month I have been inhabited by each of them. To remain vigilant about adopting these personas, I must be clear with myself on my stance.

My stance is to be prosocial.

To be prosocial I must let go of the idea that I am an expert. I have to trust the authorities and the medical establishment, because they have the information and I don’t. But more importantly, I must trust them because if everyone trusts the authorities, we can act collectively to defeat this disease. Collectively, using the power of massive national and global social structures, we can vastly reduce the impact of this disaster.

And, being prosocial also means looking out for those who are vulnerable. Offering help. Accepting help also. Accepting sacrifice, of time, of income. Acting as one to defeat this scourge!


Hendriks Psychology is conducting telehealth sessions whenever this is feasible as part of our civic duty to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

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