COVID-19 – A WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY?
“Wisdom is revealed without words” – a message from the field.
Looking out from my living room, I see a blooming garden with fruit trees, birds, bees, and butterflies. The silence is occasionally interrupted by the sound of human electric devices: a chainsaw, a vacuum cleaner, a Bluetooth speaker. Tuoro Sul Trasimeno, a small town in central Italy, in the times of the COVID-19 outbreak, like the rest of the world, feels like living in a past-future film. Social distancing, lockdown, silent and empty streets echo old memories and imaginary futures. I appreciate the intelligent design and the opportunity to reflect and rethink the social systems we are part of.
Those of us who have dedicated our lives to bringing “social change” or “system change” feel it is a humbling moment. With all our climate rebellions and marches, all our international conferences, summits, and think tanks, nothing has been as remotely effective in reducing carbon emissions as this tiny cellular being that came to us from a small and endangered species.
It calls me to reconsider change, not as something we (humans/activists/change-makers) actively do or have the sole responsibility for, but rather as something that happens/will happen anyway. We have the responsibility to respond to the best of our abilities. Climate change, viral pandemics, and wars are complex events where root causes and functions go beyond the rational ways of knowing. Does that mean we should do nothing? Sit idly by as the world goes by? Yes… And No.
It is too soon to tell the human toll of the current outbreak, which could, by some experts, reach up to 3% of the global population (which means more than 210 million). We can and should hold spaces where the fear, pain, confusion, and grief of what is lost could be expressed. As activists, change-makers, and leaders, we can sit and contemplate, see the world and learn from it, together. Aligning our words with our actions and our actions with the changing world.
The economic insatiability and social risks of the current crisis come hand in hand with a significant reduction in carbon emissions and the surge of creative solidarity among local and global communities. What is the connection? Could it be that our socio-economic systems and indicators are not compatible with our planet’s well-being and our community? And what systems and indicators can be compatible with eco-social well-being?
WHAT ARE SOCIAL FIELDS AND HOW CAN THEY HELP US?
“Social fields are social systems — but also seen from within… And aim to shed light onto the usually invisible dimension of collective experience” – Otto Scharmer and Eva Pomeroy
A train wagon, a WhatsApp group, an entire nation, all could be seen as social systems/fields. To research social fields is to connect and make visible the “felt sense of a social system.” Human beings (and non-human beings) are naturally capable and literate in “reading,” “interpreting,” and “shifting/changing with” social fields. Think of a situation or a moment when you have received a caring message from a far-away friend. How did this feel? Did you experience a change of temperature or a change in the color/quality of the light? How did this affect your being and your doing? How did it affect your social surroundings?
Global events like the COVID-19 outbreak have a strong rippling effect that could shift how we interact physically, emotionally, and structurally in our social systems/fields. Social fields can have physical properties and boundaries (like the edge of the walls of a train wagon or the borders of a country), the relational fabric and the shared field of consciousness expand and radiate beyond them. Social fields are living organisms with “layers” and are multidimensional, existing both in physical space-time and in the imagined space-time (e.g. awareness and perception of the future). This “meta-poetic” and “imaginative” aspect of the social field is connected to the “consensual reality.” This “dream/myth reality,” the collective imagination, is constantly informing and creating the “consensual reality.”
This collective imagination and story are multi-layered and constructed over time. This is why the psychological and global social impacts of the outbreak in Hubei and China and North Italy and Europe are experienced differently by the collective imagination. Italy, which is one of the most popular global tourist destinations and historically important for Western localization, hosts some of the most known cities and fashion brands of global culture. The new outbreak connects with the collective memory of the “black death” and the “fall of Rome” and shifts the perception of the new Coronavirus outbreak from yet another disturbing story in the news to the greatest and most immediate and apocalyptic threat on Western-global culture, which it probably is but maybe does not necessarily mean the “end of the world.”
In the “universe of social fields,” emotionally charged global events like COVID-19 are terraforming and can shift and transform global culture. Living in Italy and experiencing the lockdown, I could sense the opportunity and great transformative potential of shifting toward a more sustainable and regenerative global culture. Slowing down our hectic lifestyles, reducing our international travel, building local and global community solidarity, and sharing our wisdom, skills, and gifts in new ways (and online) can be just the needed ingredients for a global transition to a fossil-free global culture.
Social systems could be illustrated using the metaphor of an iceberg in which only 10% is visible, and the other 90% is submerged. Otto Scharmer has been expanding the iceberg model’s use from trying to understand corporate and organizational culture and challenges (Edgar Schein) to trying to understand global culture and challenges. We could also imagine the social field as the ocean that contains the iceberg or how the iceberg feels like the ocean currents “dance around” it.
We could also try to imagine the layers of the social field as the inside of planet earth. Like the Earth’s crust, a thin shell accounting for less than 1% of Earth’s volume, physical and visual reality as experienced through the senses account for only a small fraction of the social field. Under the crust are the relational patterns that guide the system’s social dynamics and the patterns of awareness that inform how we see (or don’t see) ourselves as part of the systems around us. In the inner core is a “fire” that gives life to the trans-personal aspect of a system, connected with the larger “mythical” and timeless field (the Aboriginal people of Australia call it “The Dreaming”).
How can we map and make visible this constantly evolving social field that makes visible its deeper layers? When geologists studied the inner layers of the earth, they used seismic devices studying patterns in the earth movement during earthquakes. What are the seismic devices and events that will measure and map our social fields and systems? Artists and children could access these deeper layers of the social field when creating art or play make-believe games. What if we could use arts-based and game-based research approaches to map social systems and social fields?
Artists and children could access these deeper layers of the social field when creating art or playing make-believe games. What if we could use arts-based and game-based research approaches to map social systems and social fields?
“Wisdom is a deep connection to the life source that goes much deeper than our mental ability. It gives us access to an enormous sphere of possibilities. What we really need at this time is to trust this, listening to the deep source within us and acting from it. Acting from the heart enables others to do so as well, helping each other and ourselves to be free from fear.” – Ellen Bermann, The Wisdom Interviews.
The Wisdom interviews are made as part of ongoing research towards an economy of wisdom.