One more helpful suggestion from America’s early college presidents for dealing with coronavirus fear is not to let our increasing frustrations boil over into anger. Waiting in long lines to buy self-quarantine supplies—trying to manage tighter budgets in the wake of job uncertainty—discovering friends or family members have foolishly ignored infection precautions—these and many other virus-related situations easily tempt our wrath.
As Princeton College president James McCosh (1868–1888) advised his own students, the anger that comes from frustration almost always exaggerates any fears we may have, creating a frantic helplessness. When Jesus told his disciples “in the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33), McCosh believed, it was as much an attempt to inoculate them against overreacting as it was to make a statement about the nature of life. As the old saying goes, “forewarned is forearmed.”
Trying to enforce serenity when time is short or choices have been unexpectedly narrowed is admittedly challenging, especially for intelligent and exceptionally talented people who are perhaps more accustomed than most to getting their way. But one thing that helps, as McCosh himself advised, is to remind oneself that even an exasperating nuisance can have a hidden benefit, acting as a “fortuitous check” on our inadvertently taking a dangerous path or missing a hidden opportunity.
The famous twentieth century psychotherapist Carl Jung became so convinced of McCosh’s wisdom that he automatically gave the name “God” to anything that held him back. This included, as he put it, “all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions and change the course of my life, for better or worse.”
Genuine peace of mind, Jung explained to his own patients, rests on the ability to accept the renovating forces of a deeper reality and, by at least trying to do so, to grow as God would have us. What so often seems little more to our “mole-like vision” than fruitlessly flinging ourselves against unbreakable walls is, at times, a necessary part of our spiritual progress.