Back in early December of last year, my wife, our kids, and I all had Covid-19. Not a fun experience. On my fourth day after testing positive, I remember thinking about how it was either going to improve or deteriorate in the next few days, as has been the pattern for so many. Ensconced in my twelve-hours-per-night-sleep-filled cognitive haze, I had to face my own mortality. I didn’t really know what would happen next.
A Covid-Induced Epiphany
I’d like to say that the following epiphany came to me in my few lucid waking hours while under the thrall of the virus, but that’s not what happened. It came to me a few weeks later as I felt an ineffable gratitude that we had all regained our health.
At this point, I experienced two realizations. First, that the two most important things in life are love and life itself. Second, that of these two, we can only take one with us when we go: the love we’ve shared with other people along the way.
I now understand at a much deeper level why, at our wedding twelve years ago in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, my wife and I engraved the back of the handcrafted diorama that we gave to all of our guests depicting a normal wedding scene—with the exception that, in true Mexican style, the bride, groom and accompanying musician were all skeletons—with the words “El Amor es el Unico que es Eterno.”
These words mean “Love is the Only Thing that is Eternal.” The rest, including life, is ephemeral.
A Difference between Love and Fear
In this sense, love is associated with gain. How does this come to be? When we express the love within us toward others and also receive love from others, we gain this invisible yet highly coveted, critical resource that will extend beyond our brief time on this planet.
Fear, on the other hand, is always associated with the opposite of gain: loss. We fear what we may lose in our lives: material possessions, a friend, our health, and of course—a fear accentuated during this pandemic—life itself.
It may be for this reason that people who exist in a state of fear do not tend to be very kind toward others. In this sense, fear is narcissistic—we haven’t received the love we feel we deserve in our lives and so we become angry toward others; after all, they haven’t given us what we’ve needed from them. This is the carrying card of the narcissist: blaming others for what they haven’t received.
Love is About What You Give
People who live in a state of love, on the other hand, do not think very much about what they have or have not received from others. Instead, they are focused on what they can give to their relationships. In this sense, they are empowered: while others are cognitively paralyzed by their ruminations on what they didn’t receive, the thoughts of those who live with love revolve around how, how often, when and what they can give to help others experience more happiness in this life. They are the living embodiment of the Italian expression “Ti voglio bene” (“I desire for your happiness.”)
Perhaps this is why we have the idea in our collective unconscious, as Jung described it, that ghosts are former people stuck in the pastime of haunting others. We perceive ghosts as people who are lost in a swirl of remorse over what they were not able to do while alive. Their song remained unsung; they were not able to express love as they desired; they did not receive the love from others they needed.
So, like the narcissists whose bodies still populate this planet, our mythological perception of ghosts is that they take out their disillusionment on others by haunting them. Most books, films and other artistic renditions of what it means to be a ghost, such as the M. Night Shyamalan movie The Sixth Sense, focus on this sense of incompleteness—a thwarted life purpose—that ghosts experience.
About the Author:
Anthony Silard, Ph.D. is a world-renowned leadership educator and coach. He has coached G-20 cabinet ministers and the CEOs and senior leaders of Fortune 500 companies such as Disney, IBM and GE and the world’s largest nonprofits such as CARE and Save the Children. He has taught leadership at the Monterrey Institute of Technology, California State University San Bernardino, Claremont McKenna College and IESE Business School and has lectured on leadership at Harvard, Stanford and Georgetown. His new book, Screened In: The Art of Living Free in the Digital Age, was just released in March 2020. You can find more articles on his weekly blog The Art of Living Free.