What John Adams Can Teach Us About Persevering Through the Coronavirus Crisis
Our second president, John Adams, can teach us much about how to live during the time of the coronavirus outbreak.
Adams certainly lived during a very different period of time, but the lessons he imparts are as true today as they were in the 18th and 19th centuries.
He was a man who dealt with many of the same challenges we face today - loss, doubt, fear, anxiety, and loneliness. At the same time, he also is a testament to the American spirit that ultimately brought about the birth of a new nation and the fervent belief that, together, we can overcome any challenge.
Here are five key lessons from John Adams that may help us during these unprecedented times:
1. Family Matters. Adams was a consummate family man. He and his wife, Abigail, loved their family more than anything else. He wanted to be home, tend to his fields and garden at Peacefield, and just be around those he loved the most. At the same time, he felt it was his duty to remain committed to the cause of independence and the formation of our new nation.
This may sound familiar to many of us, but on a less grander scale. We have our work responsibilities and our family responsibilities. They sometimes come in conflict. Now, we find ourselves working at home, working less, or not at all. In any case, we are spending more and more time with family.
It is quite often that many of us say, "if only I could spend more time at home; spend more time with family." Well, now is our chance, so savor it. Family matters. In times like these when we are forced to be with our loved ones, we should take the time to cherish the moments and be thankful that we have them - just as Adams was so appreciative of his family when he saw them and then, finally, retired to be with his beloved Abigail and children.
2. Maintain Relationships. Toward the end of Adams' life, he found himself reuniting with one of political foes, Thomas Jefferson. Prior to their re-engagement through correspondence in 1812, the two Founding Fathers had not been in contact for twelve years. That's a long time to remain silent. But once they started to correspond, they were prolific in their letters, totaling 158 by the end of their lives, both dying on July 4, 1826.
As we continue our self isolation and social distancing, it is important that we maintain our relationships and our contacts. And, as Adams and Jefferson showed us, it may be even more important to use our time to reconcile our differences with one another.
If nothing else, this is a time when we can use the tools that weren't available to our Founding Fathers - Facebook, email, chats, etc. - to maintain relationships and build stronger connections with our colleagues, friends, and family.
3. Stay Focused. For those of you whom have seen the HBO series' John Adams, you may recall the scenes where Adams is defending the British soldiers who participated in the Boston Massacre. Adams was pilloried and called a traitor by many for defending these men. However, Adams believed that everyone deserved a defense if we were to truly have faith in a justice system (then the colonial system modeled off of British law).
Throughout his defense of the soldiers, Adams was laser-focused on getting to the truth. It was the right thing to do, even if he was losing lucrative legal business as a result. By staying focused on his objective and staying true to his principles, he showed that he had integrity. This "stickwithitness" proved valuable for him later in his career.
Similarly, we can all stay focused on whatever our jobs or tasks are. And it certainly is hard to do with so much certainly around us, but staying focused on our day to day activities, following the advice of health professionals and the government, and keeping our family and loved ones safe, will ultimately get us through this ordeal.
4. Keep Busy. One thing that Adams did well was staying busy. Whether he was working on the Declaration of Independence, serving as an Ambassador, Vice President, or President, Adams was always doing something. This was even true in his "retirement," where he was a prolific writer, devoured books, and stayed busy at his house.
We can all take a cue from Adams (and Jefferson, for that matter), and stay busy during this time. In addition to work and being with the family, if there is a hobby we've neglected, then get back to it. If there are books we've said we wanted to read, but haven't had the time - well, now we have the time. And if you can do it safely, maybe even find a new hobby. My wife is suggesting I take some online cooking lessons and whip up some meals!
By keeping busy, we will keep our minds off this terrible disease and perhaps find comfort in doing things we hadn't been able to do before due to a lack of time. There's no time like the present!
5. Perseverance Prevails. The Adams presidency was marked by his steadfast desire to maintain peace with France. He did not want the young country to be entangled in another war. This was not the most popular position within his Federalist party and the deep divisions ultimately led to Jefferson being elected president in the election of 1800.
As a scene in the HBO so vividly captures, Adams is elated at the the peace treaty France has signed, even as he acknowledges his electoral defeat. For him, the cost of the election was worth it because the country was not at work. In this case, it showed Adams' perseverance - while marked with some road bumps - paid off.
Hence, we are in a position where all of us need to remain persistent and persevere through this coronavirus outbreak. We are at war though, but the enemy is invisible and and our enemy is time. If we persevere though just as Adams and our Founding Father did, we will prevail and our country will have faced and overcome yet another test.