Lately I’ve listening to Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe on audiobook. I’ve never read the classics and figured it is about time to tackle them. I have found that listening to them is easier than reading the text since the narration helps me to power through with less effort. Plus, every classic appears to be available as a free audiobook on Youtube, so it alleviates the pocketbook as well. Listening to these works on my daily commute has been a nice addition to my day.
Crusoe offers many great lessons to us during this turn of events.
As much as we like to think that we know what the post-coronavirus apocalypse will look like, in truth, we have very little idea. I tend to be in the camp that believes most matters will return back to “normal.” And while normal is more of a vector than a permanent location, we all have a fairly clear idea of what normal is on the micro and macro level. The Republicans and Democrats will resume hating on each other (they already have). My family will return to attending church, thankfully. There will be rich people. There will be poor people. For a very small group, this section of time will prove to be the single-most important event of their lives, for good or ill, but they will be the exception. For most us, a year from now we will look back and say, “Man, remember the time we didn’t have to go to work for two months!”
However, in the short-term there is a lot of uncertainty particularly with economic matters. A huge portion of the population was struggling to make ends meet even before they were furloughed or told “Sorry, we just can’t afford you right now.” And while the generous unemployment benefits have been nice for these people there is still an anxiety about what happens when those benefits are longer an option. This admittedly bleak forecast has led many people into a state of despair. The newest fad competition is seeing who can screech at the top of their lungs about who has it the worst.
And this is where the lessons of Robinson Crusoe come into play. Though a fictional story, I think it accurately describes the material and spiritual state of someone who was shipwrecked and isolated on a deserted island. If you were in that situation, there would certainly be a despair associated with that turn of events, but there would also be an adjustment to the new normal. And assuming that you were not resolute to be miserable, you might find it a good spiritual adjustment to focus on the gratitude for the blessings you did have instead the blessings that you covet.
And at the present moment, it might be a good time to reflect upon how this downturn has affected your perceptions. If you are in the camp of people that lost their job, can you honestly say that that you were happier before this all happened than you are right now? For many of you, that is not the case. You were just as ungrateful then in those circumstances as you are now in your current predicament. The problem for you, therefore, is not this predicament, but your ungrateful attitude that is persistent in all the circumstances of your life.
The other lesson from the novel is the utility of persistent industriousness. Though Robinson has but a few items that he can glean from his shipwrecked vessel to bring on this island with him, he spends the following years learning new skills, developing more tools, and generally attempting to improve upon his impoverished position.
If the current moment is abundant with anything it is free time. Someone on Twitter the other day accurately observed that if you have been putting off learning something new to improve your life and you haven’t dove enthusiastically into that endeavor since being in quarantine, then you should understand now that you are never going to do it. The greatest aspect of hitting rock bottom is the freedom that is granted to recreate yourself. If you are using this free-time to binge watch shows on Netflix, then you deserve the poverty that you are in and that will be a persistent part of your life going forward.