Monday, May 11, 2020

As We May Feel... As We May Dream... Once More

I believe we live in a time of hyper-normalization.  We all feel something is wrong, and it's getting worse. We all sense our politicians know this.  We all know the politicians have no idea what to do.  And they know we know they don't know what to do. 

And yet, before SARS-CoV-2, we continued as if everything was normal. Though, we felt, we knew, it was not normal, we could not admit this to ourselves, to each other; and neither could our politicians.  Stepping back, looking at our very unusual experience over the past months, can we now voice this sense we already had, that the time pre-SARS-CoV-2 was beyond normal; it was hyper-normal.

In normal times we feel that the world makes sense; our lived experiences are 'ok' (although they may be far from ideal), but in general, we feel our politicians have a vision to make things better (whether or not we personally agree with the vision of the politicians in power).

Before SARS-CoV-2 jumped to the human species, I know I was experiencing every day, unsettled feelings almost constantly as I struggled and mostly failed to make sense of the growing contradictions and paradoxes in our world - for myself and those I love; for my culture, communities, countries, and planet. 

If you think back, to before SAR-CoV-2, just a few short months again, how did you really feel when you replied "I'm OK" to your partners or friends genuinely concerned question: "How are you doing?"

And yet as we felt more and more unsettled, we continued to behave as if everything was normal.

I wonder: was what we were experiencing, what we were feeling, an early sense loss, of grief, as our hearts grappled with the idea that a better future, of the very notion of progress and the promises of the modernist project, was slipping from our future, from our children's future.    And were we, in fact, starting to respond, just like humans always do to any loss?  Would this explain how we were feeling?

Looking back myself I am starting to see that some of us were in denial; they were actively suppressing the feelings of loss - and this is understandable.  Some of us were angry - understandably so.  Some of us were fearful - understandably so.  Some of us were depressed - understandably so. Some of us felt that how we chose to understand the world, and how we chose to act, was part of the unspeakable contradictions and paradoxes - and many of us hoped we wouldn't have to change too much - and this too is an understandably human reaction.  And, unfortunately, some tried to take advantage of these normal emotional responses to our experiences - stoking our understandable fear, anger, depression - to manipulate us, to gain or retain power over us. 

I know I was experiencing a whole mixture of these feelings every day.

And yet I and most of you continued to live our lives, in most respects, as if everything was normal.

A few had started to express our feelings in public.  We started to say "this is not normal", for example, the growing expressions of anger from Extinction Rebellion, Gretta Thurberg / Climate Strike, and more.

And yet, even for those who started to say in public "this is not normal", "the emperor has no clothes", we felt in our hearts the little change that was happening was far from enough.  Worse, we knew no one whose actions might be contributing to the causes of our unsettled experiences and feelings was or would be held accountable for the negative, far from normal, results of globalization, the dot com bubble, 9/11, 7/7, the 2008 financial crisis, the refugee/migrant crisis, the climate crisis and much more. Rather the people that lead us to these very real experiences continued, pretty much, as if all these events were normal and to be expected.

And it had got so bad, we were no longer surprised.  In our hearts, we no longer expected anything to make a difference.  This was now normal.  Indeed for most, taking action, working towards something different, had become abnormal, a truly frightening idea: What if we lose what we have?  What if our actions make it (much) worse?  And, as a result of these understandable fears, we appreciated that our politician's sights were now set so low they only dared focus on managing.  They struggled to prevent things from getting worse because we wanted them to just keep us on our current course.  We told the politicians this what we want, for them to manage and mitigate the risks; this is what we believed was good and right.  Y  And, this comforted us.  It lessened our understandable anxieties.

And, in the main, we continued as if everything was normal.  As if everything could remain normal.

But, eminent physicist Richard Feynman reminds us "reality must take precedence, for nature cannot be fooled".  And SARS-CoV-2 is a reality which is taking precedence.  In the past months, we realized we cannot, and indeed we have not continued as if everything is normal.  Our experience, our feelings, tell us a pandemic is clearly not normal.  And we're all prepared to admit this to ourselves and each other.  Now the extra-ordinary is required.   The extra-ordinary is normal.

So, this leads me to a question: are now we willing to admit to ourselves that almost nothing in the pre-SARS-CoV-2 world was normal either, that it was in fact, hypernormal?

And despite the SARS-CoV-2 death, grief, suffering, and despite our sacrifices, are we now open to imagining something different, something better, for all our futures?

Are we open to hope and possibility?

Are we open to the effort, to the sacrifices to work together to bring a different normal into being?

Do we have the courage to create a new normal?

One that makes sense.  One that we could and would want to celebrate.

And do we have the strength to imagine what that new normal could be? Do we have the resolve to ask ourselves: What do we want the future to feel like, to be like? What could it be? What should it be? What do we believe is our potential - each of us, all of us?  How high should we set our sights?

And how should we begin?   Should we start by agreeing the list the problems we need to fix?    Or should we start, as the UN Secretary-General has requested, with a conversation about "how good could we be?"

For myself, I don't want my highest aspiration, for the highest possibility for those I love, to be to merely survive, or perhaps "just" to languish half-alive, by focusing on fixing the problems of the present.

So I'd like to invite you to reflect...

What if we chose to strive for a new normal that aims high - not utopian - but for a new normal we know in our hearts, is possible, that perhaps we have each glimpsed?   A normal that aims to enable each of us, all of us, to be fully alive, fully human - in all our amazing and wonderful diversities.

What if we aimed for a new normal that strives for caring and being, not wanting and having; that strives for abundant optimism not fearful scarcity; that creates possibilities to feel, moment-to-moment, calm not angry; that places reconciliation, equity, respect, and well-being, for ourselves, each other and our planetary home in our hearts; that recognizes the needs of our Seventh Generation, our grand-childrens’ grand-children?

What would it be like for you, and those you loved, if we chose, as our new normal, every day to be humble stewards of all that is required to enable life’s highest potential: the possibility for humans and all other life to flourish on our shared planet for those seven generations and beyond?

How would you feel if you were a part of defining and working towards realizing such a new normal for yourself, your family, your community, your culture, your place?  How would your children feel about their life's possibilities in such a new normal?  How would you feel about leaving them such a possibility?

Or do we want to return to hypernormality? Do we want to go back to pretending everything is normal, when we feel, when we know, it is not? But yet we can't admit this to ourselves, nor each other, much less take action to return to normality.

I suggest, in these clearly not-normal times, this is a choice in front of all of us.

What do you choose?

What do your deepest held values and beliefs tell you that you should choose - for yourself, those you love (born and unborn), for all of us and all other life?

With inspiration from:
UN@75 - The Global Reflection on What We Want, Initiated on the 75th Aniversary of the UN by Secretary-General António Guterres
The Strongly Sustainable Business Model Group community of practice and research
The First Explorer community of the Flourishing Enterprise Innovation Toolkit
John Ehrenfeld - "Flourishing: a frank conversation about sustainability"
Bruno Latour - "We have never been modern"
Adam Curtis - "Hypernormalization", the documentary
George Case - "Silence Descends"
Jack Layton - The last Canadian politician brave enough to dare to dream a much better normal was possible?
Joanna Macey - "The Work That Reconnects"
John Worden - "Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy Handbook"
Jeff Gibbs - "The Planet of the Humans", the documentary
Vannevar Bush - "As We May Think"
Albert Einstein - "The Real Problem Is in the Hearts of [Humankind]"