What the COVID-19 reveals (5/5)

So far, I have taken a very factual and succinct approach to show that the need for change is not virtual. It is MANDATORY. In fact, in this “big bang # 2” situation, from history, we know that the next step might be to become self-destructive. Yes, in a chaotic situation human beings can do that!

Too many mountains to climb at once can lead to despair, confusion, feeling overwhelmed, and wanting someone to be guilty. People everywhere might look for guides on this witch hunt. You have to know that we never love more our narcissists (whether real heroes or not) than in chaotic times. In fact, this would give us a sense of well-deserved peace, after all these unwanted storms.

Well, we can expect that more silent transformations will come to the surface of perception in the coming months. There are clear unavoidable signs today. If we continue with the mindset that created the problems in the first place, there will be logical consequences.

Unless we press the right button by choosing “GLOBAL COLLABORATION”, and no later than yesterday. From my research, this is the only way to stop this pandemic and open the path to a new dream and hope.

And, my dear readers, as a sense-maker for the European institutions, I have to tell you that I never failed to identify the risks of non-adaptation to a changing context. I started with well-being at work and the learning organisation in 2006. Then, exemplary management in 2008, digital competence and the social workplace in 2011, to follow my passion for collaboration and team dynamics in 2014, and then distributed leadership… So, I hope you are with me on this.

Now, in this blog post, I’m going to use two very real-life examples of how concretely self-destruction might look like. And why, if we do not put in place the conditions for collective healing, we will be nowhere close to a resolution in two years and still very far from any global collaboration.

Today, I invite you to a journey of empathy (a critical skill for a collaborative journey), by putting yourself in the shoes of two modern human beings. They are neither weak nor bad. Ella and Etienne are a perfect illustration of our current “western” civilisation mindset, which might well become mainstream all over the world, sooner than we think…

1/ Choosing self-harm

We know we foster exhaustion with our busy post-industrial mindset. We are aware of the marketing war to create wants. In fact, most of us became masters in artificial positivity, whether as suppliers, prescribers, and/or consumers (yes we can also have these three roles at the same time!).

(Over) consumerism is what I call an artificial positive action. It looks positive, yet is a form of destruction. And, today, more and more enlightened people judge those who do overconsume, as “weak” or even “bad” people.

Ella is one of the “weak and bad” people. She does not see her as such and most people neither. However, it could well change sooner than you think, watch out for the signs.

So, whenever Ella feels stressed or exhausted, or when she feels she needs a good reward, she falls for the many temptations at her disposal, in the form of shopping trips of all kinds. She is turning 50 soon, and she adopted this habit when she was 12. At the time, her mother, who was suffering – we were using the word “enjoying” I think back then… So, at the time, her mother was “enjoying” the same pattern when she started to share these moments of excitation with her daughter. The belief that behind this activity, there was love, got anchored in Ella. Ella is a good person, and she loves to do many gifts around her. Often, we see her coming back home, full of these colourful goods packed in wonderful plastic bags, which are to her promises of happiness. Just a quick note to tell you that Ella is very proud to be an excellent shopper, by the way, and so this activity is linked to her sense of worth.

Yet, more and more, Ella becomes aware that what used to be gifted is actually destroying the planet. And her tranquillity. After almost two years in this pandemic, she is starting to realise that she may be one co-responsible for the collective situation we are in. She does not get direct proof though, but still, there was Black Friday, a week ago, and for the first time, she felt it was strange to join the collective dance of destruction. In a way it was uncomfortable.

Let’s pause a minute to reflect on this feeling of discomfort… Wait! This is not a new feeling at all, Ella recognises it. In fact, every time in history, that we reached a new stage of awareness, society tended to create guilt, shame, if not humiliation, which are three of the most toxic emotions. At the receiving end of these emotions, the “weak people” always react by harming themselves. But Ella is not “weak”. No one is! Or, are we all “weak”?!

In fact, we all have this tendency to be in denial about our own shortcomings, and strangely enough in a world of temptations, everyone can only be “weak”. We are not gods (and should certainly not feel like them, at the risk of losing ourselves totally)! So, there is nothing wrong with Ella, and she even chooses to make more effort.

Still, the post-industrial era continues to exhaust her, every day, from 9 to 5. As you probably know now, exhaustion always precedes a form of destruction. So, Ella really needs another destructive addiction to cope. She has not learnt the essentials of self-care. Or perhaps, all this humiliation, shame and guilt led her to think she does not deserve it. Or, finally, it is linked to this very difficult feeling of void, that our humanity likes to cultivate to reinforce a feeling of dependency and domination. So, in any case, her doctor prescribed feel-good pills. It is not bad, he also takes them.

What he forgets to tell, is perhaps that it could well reduce her life expectancy, and worse her quality of life in later years. Yes, feel-good pills are slow poison. They can even lead to the most toxic combinations.

I suppose you understand that Ella has many options to manage her exhaustion, stress, and unbearable sense of void, which you might see now like a vicious circle. Just remember that the possibilities for self-destruction increase exponentially. Unless we choose to have a benevolent framework for innovation and actions.

AT THIS STAGE, NO DESPAIR. I hope you remember that there are many ways out, and many reasons to feel hopeful today. We are in amazing times. And we have all we need to become an exceptional civilisation.

Let’s see with this second story how another harmful habit manifests itself.

2/ Choosing EXIT to avoid the impossible truth

This letter was written by Etienne:

Perhaps you recognise the mindset that makes us want to be more and do more. It tells us to tick more boxes, even when they do not result in more meaning or value. It tells us that we have an urgency to say something even when no one seems to listen… In fact, as long as we deliver, talk, follow and produce, we seem to EXIST. This is a common story. Quantity over quality. Or even better: quantity AND quality. We always want more. We are never busy enough. Yet, we continue to join the collective dance. If we do, no matter our choice, it must be good. I must do good, do I?!

DO I????????? Well... no one listens, I might do what I want then. That's the definition of freedom in our modern era: no one cares, so I can well do anything I want. Including self-sabotage.

In fact, fewer and fewer care. Many people become ‘thick-skinned’ to find a way to protect themselves. When on top, we become self-centered, that becomes the reason for our unhappiness and sabotage strategies! In fact, we are self-centered in an uncaring fashion. 
And fewer and fewer care for others outside of their bubbles, too. All in all, many of us find comfort even in the most negative habits. What can we hope if we remain this society half asleep and incapable of movement, in the face of many fears and other dangerous thoughts? 
Obviously, resistance in various forms! When we resist, at one point, there will be disease and intense suffering. But our belief is that we cannot avoid it. It's our common fate.

Tell me: why even change anything? Simple! Post-industrial mind-set, again. Instead of fixing things, we gain our worth by generating more of the NEW. But “new” does not always equal “progress”. Sometimes, it's just another EXIT from a world of illusions that is killing us as we speak. 
And this race for innovation that does not create value, but adds new possibilities for self-destruction, leaves us very little time to think, reflect or step-back on the REAL things, which make us happy.

Do you know that the next 10 years will see more innovations than the past century? Yes, we thought we had already seen a lot, but the party is far from being over! 
Perhaps it would be a bit crazy to join the movement of acceleration. What about looking for an EXIT? 

And this is what Etienne did last month. He killed himself, he left three children behind of 4-6 and 8. Unfortunately, Etienne will not have the chance to see emerge our exceptional civilisation.

I chose deliberately an extreme situation because this is one we see more and more often in our society. And I think it’s more than urgent to confront this other silent transformation. Other behaviours of EXIT/EXIST can be manifested through marijuana, alcohol, video games, running away to Mars, etc.

Conclusion: No HARM / No MARS

I do not know why but I do not think we will do any better on Mars. And I quite like our planet to be honest. My point with these two stories was to ensure we empathize with every situation. The aim is to embark everyone on a new journey towards well-being.

The good news is that if we are conditioned by our environment and our culture, we are also adaptable and have a great ability to modify both our behaviours, our mindset, and our environment. So, the situation is far from being hopeless. We just need to find a system and a benevolent framework for actions that support the basic needs of society. They are not virtual as we could see in this chapter. A new dream is waiting to get uncovered, and one which will not lie in the hands of just a few. Let’s follow the wave to see where it will lead us this time. I look forward to starting this new journey with you, as soon as tomorrow 🙂

“We are at once immensely powerful, immensely trapped, and everything in between” (Jess Rimington)

In the meantime, I invite you to watch this discussion on Addiction with Robert Madelin, Frans Nijs and Olivier Duris.

(Thomas Duval Illustrations)

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