The Tao of Coronavirus

I have often quoted M Scott Peck who started his book, A Road Less Travelled thus:

Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult.


Life is indeed a little more difficult for many of us as we deal with the COVID-19

Yet the privations that the coronavirus have imbued us with are no great problem for my long-suffering wife and I. Apart from the visits from our children and grandchildren (which we understandably miss), life is not too much different. Val,(my wife) mainly misses going to the library. She is an inveterate reader of murder mysteries and previously read a couple of books a week. Fortunately, with her birthday coming on I have been able to purchase a half dozen books on line from her favourite authors. But I continue to remind her that having put up with me for 50+ years, the coronavirus should be a breeze!

I am a very tactile person and I like to hug.

In our little housing complex, the neighbours across the road have a young boy and just recently the lovely lady of the house was delivered prematurely of two girls. The little boy used to run across the road in our cul de sac to get a hug from me. Understandably his mother won’t let him do so now.

My son, his wife and our two grandchildren live in our regional city as well. My son and his wife have come to visit us during the shutdown. But this weekend was my wife’s birthday. Consequently my son came over in the morning one day with our lovely granddaughter (who is in her late teens) and then in the afternoon our daughter in law brought our grandson over who is only a year or two younger (he’s  currently getting his hours up to try for his driving licence). We had not seen these grandchildren for over a month and it was so nice to see them but it was disappointing I couldn’t hug them!

Anyhow, in the scheme of things these are trifling matters when hundreds of thousands around the world are dying from the pandemic. It serves to remind us how precious and mysterious life is.

I have been re-reading Lao Tzu’s famous little tome Tao Te Ching (a book about the Way [Tao]) to remind me of some of the ancient insights into the mystery of Life. (Unless otherwise stated all further quotations are from Ursula K LeGuin’s interpretation of the Tao Te Ching.)

The growing death toll reminds us of life’s impermanence. Here is a little snippet from Lao Tzu on Life’s impermanence.

Heaven will last,

Earth will endure.

How can they last so long?

They don’t exist for themselves

And so go on and on.

So wise souls leaving self behind,

Move forward putting self aside,

And putting self aside stay centred.

Why let the self go?

To keep what the soul needs.

In contemplating Australia’s seemingly successful response to the coronavirus it occurs to me that much of that success was due to the trust we have put in our governments. Australians, in general, have complied with the restrictions that have been mandated.

In the USA we have seen growing resistance to government strictures. Citizens are demanding the restoration of their freedoms and some are even threatening to take up arms to have them restored.

Admittedly, as often is the case, the American response is somewhat extreme. It would seem however that they take the removal of their essential freedoms more seriously than we do.

But I think our governments shouldn’t take citizens for granted either. We have largely complied with the strictures they have applied because we trust that the government is doing its best to protect us. This is in some ways a surprising outcome when the findings of many polls suggest Australians have little trust in politicians.

As I write the COVID Safe app seems to have had a large uptake which will help manage the spread of the virus in the general population. This again reflects that the population at large accept that this intervention by the government is a useful and benign step in thwarting the virus.

But I think the government needs to be careful in maintaining our trust, which is so essential in repelling the virus. When police officers move on members of the public sunbathing in parks remote from others, or fishing by themselves at the end of a pier, or sitting by themselves on a park bench eating a kebab, the public are likely to question the government’s intent.

Thus I believe our further progress in thwarting the virus is dependent on trust and governments need to treat us as adults and not be paternalistic in their actions.

To give no trust

Is to get no trust.


And of course, as I intimated above, the federal government has managed the pandemic reasonably well. But we need to be careful that its interventions aren’t too prohibitive and remain too long thus stifling our economic recovery.

The more restrictions and prohibitions the poorer people get.

The more experts a country has the more of a mess it’s in.

The coronavirus pandemic has presented our governments with difficult decisions and often moral dilemmas.

The primary concern initially was that if the virus was as virulent as many believed we would not have the medical resources to cope.  But Australia’s response, driven by the Christian ethics of our prime minister, was to respect the sanctity of life. The lockdown was primarily about ensuring human safety.

But it was always going to be a difficult call as to how far we should go with the restrictions that seemed necessary to save human life. A complete lockdown negates our freedoms and destroys our economy. So in this respect we might judge Australia’s response as measured and moderate.

One of the most effective initiatives taken by the prime minister was to establish the national cabinet comprising himself and all the premiers and chief ministers from Australia’s states and territories (and recently even including New Zealand’s prime minister).  But in doing so he has often had to acknowledge that in many areas, predominantly health and education, he must yield to the primacy of the states. Despite his great desire to get children back to school for example, he has had the humility to yield to the wishes of the state governments.

I have three treasures.

I keep and treasure them.

The first, mercy,

The second, moderation,

The third, modesty.

If you are merciful, you can be brave.

If you’re moderate, you can be generous.

And if you don’t presume to lead,

You can lead the high and mighty.

We are often arrogant enough to believe that our modern insights provide a substantive platform on which to base our lives. It is easy to discount the wisdom of the ancients as irrelevant or based on ignorance. Any dedicated student of the wisdom traditions of the world will tell you that whilst the ancient sages had no understanding of quantum theory or the insights of Einstein and other twentieth century scientific paradigm breakers, they still had a good handle on the basics of the human condition. It is foolish not to listen to their wisdom.

Despite the references to Taoism above, I would also argue that in responding to the pandemic our government in its attempt to contain the virus did not opt for a complete lock down as per New Zealand or a more laissez faire approach as per Sweden but chose the middle path which is in itself a very Buddhist response.

But as you bunker down to outlast the assault of the coronavirus, let me refer you to the thoughts of a remarkable human being who was compelled to suffer the privations of the Nazi onslaught of Jews in the German concentration camps.  I refer to Viktor Frankl. His advice to us in these troubled times is very Taoist like.

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.


Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.


My fervent prayer for all of you in lockdown is to choose your Way (Tao) wisely!


6 Replies to “The Tao of Coronavirus”

  1. Your words are always a pleasure to read and for me a reminder that we all do things differently. We have our daughter and three children living with us and so plenty of hugs and kisses still and we have not adhered to a strict lockdown anyway, being of the view that exposure to some degree is good for mental and physical health and for the much-needed herd immunity.

    I have followed the issue closely and see countries which have not done lockdown like Sweden, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, to name just four, and the cruise-ship ‘petri-dish’ examples, as indicators that the Covid-19 virus is high on hysteria and infection and low on threat.

    I am also troubled at how quickly in the name of fear, many people will betray their rights, freedoms and principles of a democratic society. As history so often records, tyranny thrives on fear and whether the enemy is a disease or a nation, the machinations and machinery of tyranny work in the same way with the same outcomes.

    But, as history has also shown, little changes but our beliefs and there are radical differences between beliefs today regarding Covid-19 and its minimal threat compared to the Spanish Flu Pandemic and its real threat and the attitudes and beliefs people held in that time. After decades living in Third World countries, Africa and India, I have long been struck by how high fear levels are in Australia and many other First World nations when we are safer than we have ever been. But fear needs and has no reason which is why it is so easily milked.

    1. It is always good to hear from you, Ros. You often present a different point of view to most.

      Do you know what annoys me most about the government’s intervention to contain the coronavirus? It is the condescending way that some of the decision makers view our essential freedoms. Our premier comes on TV and tells us that because we have been good boys and girls she will now let us have a couple more visitors. Its like your parents giving you a lolly because you tidied your room! I think we allowed the government to curtail our freedoms too easily, and they are our freedoms, not theirs to play with. It is good that most have knuckled down and taken reasonable action in response to the virus. But in the end they are our freedoms and not governments to dispense as they see fit!

  2. Dear Cona .. please be gone .
    The ‘Herd immunity’ approach to lose a few that cost the state money ..sounds a little like euthanasia at 80 years of age.
    On the other hand lockdown with business collapse , domestic violence deaths etc to save 2 % .
    When Cona gets close, like 6 meters away, and your work colleague is positive or the person you travelled the USA is on her 15 th Day of lethargy, with the wait to see if it’s going to get worse or better.
    Yes ” FEAR” ups the adrenalin and motivation. It’s what has kept humans on this planet.
    I’m still washing hands and getting deliveries.
    PS I had a copy of Tao Te Ching .. 1920 translation into English by a German fellow . That translation part is tricky.

    1. Well despite the restrictions of the coronavirus I am pleased my little essays can still reach New Zealand, Esther! I must admit you are still my favourite accountant and of course would always value your opinions.

      We will be even closer soon . Now that your prime minister has joined Australia’s national cabinet it won’t be long before we admit you as our seventh state. I think Scott Morrison’s prime objective is to recruit your rugby players to the Australian team so that we might sometimes in the future win a Rugby game again! This strategy has no attraction to me because I think Rugby is a load of rubbish!

      I hope you and yours stay well in these troubling times. Can you catch coronavirus making earthen floors? I hope not!

  3. Thank you Ted for reminding me of those wonderful words from M Scott Peck and Viktor Frankl. We would all do well to try our best to apply those principles to our daily lives and the challenges we face. And I agree, the Australian (Government and public) response to the pandemic so far has by and large been a great credit to the country.

    1. Mark, it is a great pleasure to hear from you. It is gratifying to know that you haven’t forgotten the wisdom that we shared from various sources.But as you rightly point out these are two wonderful insights.

      I trust things are going well with you.

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