I believe it was the Roman Poet, Horace, who theorized about the effects of adversity on the human character. The statement was – “Adversity is the true test of character.” It is nothing novel that he wrote on, but at least he created a framework to think about how humans behave when circumstances or situations become difficult for living. This is also something that resonates with each human, so this conversation isn’t tangential to relationship dynamics either. It is in adversity that you find elements of your personality enhanced or advanced.
Abraham Lincoln, a man of great thought and respect, lanky and full of swagger, swanked his way from Horace by upping the ante for the human character. Lincoln’s theory on power as a better test of human character arises from his words – “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” His assertion, though not finite, is faultless. Power, in its various forms and expression of human capacity, underlies the true revelation of the self.
Permit me to combine both thoughts here for my brief exposition on human nature. I am by no means philosophizing, but rather see this as an attempt at moralizing. There are moments in time and history that provide the qualitative context to test theory to prove or disprove them. We are seething in the cauldron of one such moment with the global pandemic called COVID-19. So much is tugging at our humanity that we cannot but sit back and watch extreme displays of self-preservation by our specie. Yet the prognosis of this is not even near Zombie Apocalypse levels.
The events following the pandemicization of the Corona Virus and its attendant effect on economics, politics, and social connections have brought to fore that infamous scriptural passage in Jeremiah 17:9. I can see that passionate prophet screaming out the word of the Lord to the people of his time and now. The heart of man is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it.” Humans essentially are very wicked. I say this with caution seeing the many that rise above the lures of evil to be their brother’s keepers and make society a better place. However, one cannot but notice how people suddenly unmask their seeming piety to reveal demonic levels of greed and selfishness when faced with conditions of uncertainty such as these times.
Felix was narrating how he asked his fiancée to go shopping with him so they can get some essentials to see them through the period of reduced social contact. On getting to the store, his fiancée appeared at the checkout till with a trolley filled with about seventy cans of hand sanitizers. On inquiry, her response was economics beautified with romance – “Honey! I smell wedding money.” His frustration was compounded by the prices indicated by the scanner. It was twice the normal price, a 100% increase in less than two days. This means for wedding money the eventual user will pay thrice the four times the original price. How does a person even think of profiting from someone elses misery?
From the several instances suppliers and seller taking advantage of people to the severe fights to own a piece of toiletry at a local store, the problem isn’t the supply and demand. It is the human response to this that needs redeeming. I was at an ATM to make little cash withdrawal and stood in line waiting for my turn. Two young persons stood there refreshing each transaction to start again. I asked if I will be permitted to make just a single withdrawal and was instantly rebuffed by “what if the money finishes?” Where are the emoticons when you need them!
Even in distributing food to the needy members at a local church upends all notions of gratitude and nobleness of heart. People who are to be grateful for the little they have received are angry and spiteful for not getting the type of package some others received. Even those distributing are trying to corner a few food packs to deliver to non-present family members or friends. This is the sad tale of what this strange virus has revealed. The real virus is what originates from our hearts and not that which torments our flesh. If things go worse from here, what will be humanity’s biggest challenge will not be that which created the condition in the first place. It will be the human condition of base wickedness to one another that be our undoing.
Let me return to the initial thoughts of Horace and Lincoln. Adversity and power and twin variables that are current test conditions for most persons today facing the scourge. Though we are all in this together, some have assumed new dimensions of power. Some have purchasing power with which one can oppress or bring succour. Some have supply power to ease burdens or deny livelihood. Some have gained spiritual power through which they can empower or misinform. Yet, others have political power that can secure or can destabilize whole societies. What you do with your powers and opportunities in this adversity reveals who you truly are at heart.
Just as we have seen so much evil in these times, we have seen even more good being done. So, it is a choice we all have about the type of person we want to be. The times will get darker let’s not be deceived about that. The world systems have changed, priorities have changed, business operations have changed, and religion has also changed forever. Things are no longer going to be as it was formerly, and we must be prepared to respond to all this put together. It’s either we become the worse for it, or we rise above the extreme demands of self-preservation to be the agents of good. This, however, must begin with me.