Photo by suju

The Coronavirus and Being Human

I have an interesting sense of stoicism about what is currently happening around the world in response to the coronavirus.

Whilst there are some focussing on finding or creating a vaccine I’m more focussed on what this experience is here to teach us, why now, and what we can learn from the past?

This is not the first pandemic and I’m sure that sadly it won’t be the last and that brings two quotes come to mind;

“Stars can’t shine without darkness.”

Or, as my mother used to say when we were young, being naughty and refused to listen to her;

“Those who can’t hear must feel.”

As a species we are currently at the mercy of a microorganism, a virus, something that we can’t see with the naked eye that is having a vibrational impact on us as a species. We are currently under attack by something that makes us as humans seem small and almost inconsequential in relation to “life, the universe and everything” .

Throughout history we have seen that what can follow a pandemic is a period of personal introspection, societal shifts and systemic innovation. But, many lives were sacrificed in the uncovering of those new and previously unthought of truths, whether through death or the othering (creating a ‘them’ versus ‘us’ culture based power, privilege or a perception of rights), and the colonisation of peoples and lands. The decline of serfdom and an improvement in workers rights, a rise in mysticism (as an alternative to the grip of organised religions), improvements in public health and the vital role of vaccinations all followed previous pandemics.

So what can we learn from this one that we are currently in?

And, how can we use the coronavirus (COVID-19) as a tool for enlightenment and innovation?

As a connector of dots, I can’t help but see a pattern to all of this, one that is connected to our patterns of behaviour with other tools (or technologies). With algorithmic digital technology, with spirituality, with religion even with quantum physics.

In some capacity we use all of the previously mentioned tools to give us guidance that helps us to understand the context of the problems that we are trying to solve. At the very core of that is the age old question;

What does it mean to be human?

Photo by Anne-Onyme

COVID-19 is impacting our understanding of the fragility of humanity and therefore our identities, our relationship to and with each other, our environment and our ecosystems.

“We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human.” — The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram.

We create stories about our relationship with these tools (technologies). On the impact that it/ they have on our identities, the day-to-day workings of our existence and in some ways more importantly, our levels of choice, power and responsibility.

And how have many of us responded?

With privilege, highlighting the gulf between the haves and have nots. Panic buying, stockpiling and the calls for almost immediate self isolation are the gifts of the privileged. Of those who have access to savings and a stable income. Who know that they can afford to self isolate for a few weeks, versus those who have to decide which brand of beans to buy based on how much they have in their pockets or where their next corporate or state tithe is coming from, and more importantly, when.

This is also an example of herd behaviour and I understand that much of it is based on fear and anxiety, but that doesn’t make it any easier to observe or digest.

We are already seeing that many of the first jobs to be cut have been those on zero hour contracts, the freelancers and the self employed. Those who are also the very lifeblood of our cities and countries. Jobs that are also filled by immigrants and migrants who have recently seen and experienced a rise in racism, xenophobia and anti-semitic behaviour as countries witness a rise in conservatism and the right, as we debate, fight and politicise over borders and boundaries (all constructed by humans in the first place).

Egos have been leading the battle cries.

But, we find ourselves in a position where we have no choice but to slow down. Some will find it more uncomfortable than others but we have an unprecedented global opportunity to stop, to step into those silences and realise that;

“Music is the silence between the notes”. Claude Debussy

If we take this as an opportunity for individual and global interoception (the ability to sense the internal state, usually the body) then what are some of the new patterns of behaviour that are emerging that can teach us lessons for our future selves?

LESSON ONE: Decentralised problem solving aka human blockchains

COVID-19 doesn’t have an ego, it doesn’t discriminate or create hierarchies in the way that we do as humans, by othering in its assimilation of the body’s cells.

It doesn’t care if you are rich or poor.

It doesn’t respect street, village, city or country borders.

It doesn’t respect human laws.

Some have started, whether consciously or subconsciously, to think and act like the virus. We can see that borders and boundaries won’t help us, in fact that they slow us down.

Hack the Crisis is an online response to the current pandemic. A digital global hackathon organised by Accelerate Estonia and Garage48 that included over 1,100 people from more than 20 countries spanning 14 different time zones. Its response was fast, smart and ignored human borders. This response recognised that each participant may have held a valuable piece of the puzzle, to enable redefining the problem, asking the right questions, experiment and then explore possible solutions together, as an ecosystem of collective intelligence.

None of this would have been possible without decentralisation, trust and transparency.

LESSON TWO: The deconstruction of ‘othering’.

Herd mentality is also creating new ways of othering resulting in abhorrent behaviour directly targeting particular factions of society. Often those, who again we depend on to save us and keep our systems functioning, even at its most basic level.

We see reports of nurses and medical staff being spat on and verbally abused for being “disease spreaders” for putting their own (and in some cases their families) lives at risk to save the lives of strangers.

Unfortunately this behaviour is also nothing new.

Ask any human who has been othered at some point in (probably most of) their life and they will tell you that they recognise this behaviour. They live it, often daily. It usually comes under the experiences of racism, homophobia, xenophobia, anti-semitism, ableism, misogyny and ageism.

But, in this current pandemic something else is also happening, bubbling and rising to the surface.

One of my mentors created a vivid image of what we are currently experiencing. They used the metaphor of an earthquake to describe our current and very primal responses. The earth is shaking and everything seems to be going to shit. We are in survival mode and that can be manifested in many ways, each different, but equally valid, We’re all sitting in the empty bath waiting for the reverberations to stop so that we can assess the damage and work out what next? How do we rebuild our life, our lives, our homes, our villages, cities and countries?

In recent years we have seen, and felt, the resurgence of the local and hyperlocal community. A sense of civic responsibility, of acts of activism (whether personal or collective) and the decolonisation of areas such as mental health services, the arts, the curriculum regarded as ‘the norm’ in today’s version of democratic and inclusive societies.

Closely linked to LESSON ONE: Decentralised problem solving (see above) we are witnessing the emergence of digitally led support groups. Hyperlocal communities are being established and run by the community for the community where there is no monetary exchange. Inclusion and support is not based on race, gender, age, sexuality, hierarchy, experience, perceived intelligence or economic stability but on compassion, empathy and a willingness to help your fellow human because it’s the right thing to do.

Here in the UK we are at the start of an unprecedented time in our history when on the 23rd of March our Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a nationwide lockdown, the first non- wartime mandate in our history. Most of us are too young to have experienced this before but we are looking back to be able to move forward. When services and products were scarce many during wars and times of political unrest were reliant on hyperlocal communities and on the kindness, wisdom and knowledge of strangers.

The patterns and behaviours are repeating themselves. However, we now have new forms of technology (digital and algorithmic) to help us build, curate and run those communities.

If we continue to look to the past for lessons what else could we be capable of?

Especially when it comes to being human.

LESSON THREE: Redefining human

As the domino effect of a lockdown occurs across the developed world causing many to lose their jobs and sense of purpose, the stories that we have believed and tell about ourselves will and are changing.

Many of us have spent much of our lives winning in the art of distraction, busyness and human-to-human disconnection. Living, surviving and ‘thriving’ (are we really?) through a reverence and dependence on various tools to give us insights, knowledge and perceived wisdom into the who, what, why and how of our existence. Creating religious-like rituals that have only proceeded to widen the gap between it us and our responsibilities to others.

As a result we have been losing our sense of wonder and awe about our existence as a species on this planet that we call Earth.

However, COVID-19 is now forcing us as an entire species to recognise and accept our fragility as humans. We are being forced to slow down, to stop, to disconnect from our environment and from others. We will have little choice but to spend time with ourselves, immersed in our own thoughts, feelings, stepping into those shadows of our existence. To reconnect our external stories with our internal senses, feelings and behaviours.

A type of interoception of human identity.

And so maybe COVID-19 is also an opportunity for us to ask ourselves some fundamental and existential questions, ones that we have been avoiding (or too distracted) to ask.

What does it mean to be human?

Where am I heading?

How do I get there?

And, how do I find the others’?

End.

How am I exploring and answering these questions above?

Find out more by reading the posts Escaping Plato’s Cave and Not Your Status Quo: Cyborg Shamanism and Its Creator. A Conversation with Adah Parris.

I’m building and curating a community of storytellers, innovators, strategists, artists, activists, of humans.

To stay in touch and join us, please sign up for my newsletter using this link.

To find out more about me, my talks and podcast interviews, or to enquire about booking me as a speaker please visit my website.

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Adah Parris

Adah Parris

AfroPunk, Storyteller and Cultural Strategist. Enthusiastic curator of people, patterns and stories. www.adahparris.com