Meaning-Making During Covid-19 Pandemic

14 Jan
Sunrise in Kloof, Kzn

Sunrise brings new opportunities. A view from my window in Kloof, Kzn


The year that changed us all

We all know that 2020 is one of the defining years of our history. A year that brought the world to a standstill and upended our traditional understanding of how the world functioned. We no longer have the ability to make general predictions about our health, relationships, the economy, education and so on. The only certainty we have at the moment is that there is a lack of it.

On both an individual and collective level, we have been shocked by the events of 2020. As we try to reset and find our balance, another virus surge of infection causes familiar aftershocks of grief, unpredictability and loneliness. This time of chaos has no precedent in living memory, so we need to find our unique paths forward.


We are story-tellers

Don Miguel Ruiz says in his book The Four Agreements:

“Humans are storytellers. It is our nature to make up stories, to interpret everything we perceive. Without awareness, we give our personal power to the story and the story writes itself. With awareness, we recover the control of our story. We see we are the authors and if we don’t like our story, we change it.”

The stories we tell matter. They have the power to sustain or break us. Our task is to get to the underbelly of the story, to truly make meaning of the crisis we find ourselves in. In this way, we can re-author and take control of the story rather than be a character in the story.


How to re-author our story

It is not possible to pen an article on ‘meaning making’ without deferring to Viktor Frankl’s iconic book: Man’s Search for Meaning ( From the depravity of the Auschwitz concentration camp, Frankl transcended this experience and brought to the world a therapy called Logotherapy. Logos comes from the Greek word translated as “meaning”. He understood that the primary motivational force in humans is a striving for meaning. Logotherapy is a process to help you find meaning in life.

According to Frankl we can discover meaning in life in 3 ways:

1) by creating a work or doing a deed

2) by experiencing something or encountering someone, and

3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

An important point here is that finding meaning in life is a continuous process: “the meaning of  life always changes, but…it never ceases to be”. New events or life experiences require the firm intention to find and apply meaning to the event that will transcend the suffering.

As we have all come to know, but not necessarily practice, we always have a choice in how we respond to a situation. There is a small gap of time between becoming aware of the ‘stimulus’ (say, someone saying something harsh to you) and your ‘reaction’ to that stimulus. Very often we ‘react’ in an equally harsh, or negative way to the negative stimulus. When we realize that we have the power to ‘respond’ in a more functional way, we are choosing a potentially different outcome. We have the freedom to choose our attitude to a situation.

Listen to this brief yet useful overview of Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”:


In summary

Today we are confronted with a crisis in the form of a world-wide pandemic. A crisis is indeed a moment of change. It is a moment in time when an old system breaks down but at the same time the ensuing chaos offers us an opportunity to create something new. We have the freedom to choose how we respond to this crisis, what story we wish to tell. The challenge is to find our unique meaning and purpose at this time. As Nietzsche is famously quoted: “He who has a why to live, can bare almost any how”.