The choice the coronavirus crisis stories entail, and your crucial role in all of it
From the moment the coronavirus has received our undivided attention, the amount of information we share has increased exponentially. Stories and metaphors have always been the media to explain the things of life, and now, more than ever, they seem vital to us.
“Einstein said in this regard that our reality is not made of atoms, but — on an even deeper level — of stories. It is information that ultimately produces form. Information literally means ‘in formation’, ‘being formed’, ‘taking shape’. To understand the information age, you need to understand that information has more power than atoms and armies.”
(Bommerez 2007: 21-22, translation PS)
As a social media shaman I combine my work at the level of atoms (which I translate into energetic work) and the level of social media (where I perform my technical talent). The shamanic practice is based on the use of many a story already, and the current content of social media makes the art of storytelling come alive even more.
The accumulation of all of these stories sharpens our assignment of meaning: which story do we believe and which conviction prevails? Can you still see the forest through the trees?
It’s no coincidence that the above quote comes from the book ‘Seeing the forest through the trees’ (in Dutch: Door de bomen het bos zien ) by Jan Bommerez . This book has been in my possession for ten years, and it has never been more relevant.
In his book, Bommerez explains how we have moved from the information age to the transformation age (also known as the age of ideas, the age of consciousness or the innovation age). These are all great concepts to use in a story, but they do come with a side note. Our collective thinking patterns still lag behind on this leap of progress. Cause: the human tendency to avoid chaos. Our prevailing thought patterns prefer limiting control over creative chaos. Control creates predictability; chaos makes us feel insecure.
Today’s story puts us in the midst of a crisis, the coronavirus crisis. The current thinking of the larger collective begs for even more control.
Life, however, has never followed the predictable pattern that we would love to see. The fact that we know this, doesn’t mean that we like to be confronted with it the way we are now. We prefer to cling to our daily stability and ‘certainties’ (money, work, health), but even those are failing us. The comforting thought that what we have today, will still be there tomorrow turns out to be an illusion.
Necessity knows no law. Thus, governments are making large-scale adjustments, companies are (down)scaling their production to local, and we, the people of flesh and blood, are scaling up our online presence. In this way, we hope to regain control of our daily lives and, eventually, to return to a form of ‘normal.’
In doing so, however, we are overlooking one thing: our own contribution to the chaos.
The triad of chaos, order and chaorder
“As the communication capacity in the world increases (through more complex connections), the factor of order decreases and the factor of chaos increases. Information enables transformation, and better dissemination of information only speeds up the process. The new finds its way faster and faster, and it is destroying the old order.”
(Bommerez 2007: 50-51, translation PS)
On the one hand, different stories are circulating about the origin of COVID-19, and we have our pick of conspiracy theories. There are heaps of heartbreaking videos and photos of overcrowded hospitals, refugee camps stacked with sickness, and ghost cities in lockdown. These are mainly stories about victimization. On the other hand, there are the encouraging stories of children who process their experience through song and dance, students who shop for the elderly and an abundance of giveaways by companies both large and small. These stories center around heroes and their awesome deeds.
The chaos that is now visible in our daily reality cannot be contributed to the corona virus alone. Our reaction to the virus, and the significance we assign to the large amount of available information, creates at least as much chaos.
Chaos is one of our biggest fears. It is unpredictable, has an unknown outcome and is therefore impossible to grasp for the gray matter in our heads. Chaos creates the most brilliant brain, but the thinking brain doesn’t like chaos.
Yet, chaos is a part of Nature — just as we are a part of Nature. Chaos is the realm of creation. It is the ‘soup’ between caterpillar and butterfly. It is the pre-form (before there is form), and full of potential.
And now, in our frantic efforts to control the chaos, we are adding layer after layer of information (forms we assign meaning to). Until these rules, and assumed truths, start contradicting themselves. Then the chaos returns.
On the other side of the continuum, there is order. Order is the realm where information rules. Here, structure overrides chaos, and nothing is left to chance. Order also makes it possible to distinguish one from the other. It separates and divides, making it possible for classification and systematization to be applied.
There is a natural order in the world, the emphasis lying on ‘natural.’ It is the kind of order that is not imposed on anyone or anything, and that arises from universal laws, treating every being — every form of energy — equally. The purest form of information.
Between chaos and order, somewhere in the middle, there is ‘chaorder’ (a term coined by Dee Hock). Chaorder is at the edge of chaos. It is the creative zone where old and new come together for an original blend. Chaorder is our natural state of being, where the laws of the Universe are in balance with our free will. It is both an acknowledgment of and an encouragement to show our unique nature.
This is the realm where we each realize our response-ability towards Life’s blessings and challenges. We are the creators of our own U-niverse (You-niverse), and what we put out there — through our actions and thoughts — is what we get reflected back in our daily reality.
Take me, for example, the social media shaman: it is my nature to be an orderly person. I am blessed with a healthy self-discipline and like to maintain a certain amount of regularity and routine in my life. At the same time, I am a very creative person. As soon as inspiration arrives at my mental doorstep, I do well to find an outlet for it — by writing a blog post, or by making digital art and Digital Talismans as I do these days. For me, turning inspiration into information is a process of total chaos. During sessions with my clients, however, the order seems to be the opposite: by tuning in to the energy that is present, I make my clients aware of what is going on at different levels. The chaos that my clients perceived, changes into clarity. This is my unique way of bringing chaorder into the world.
The call for a new normal
Even before the outbreak of this crisis, I was living quite isolated and with financial challenges as a part of my shamanic path (or my hero journey). These are now also possible keywords for a Google search on ‘coronavirus crisis.’ To me, that’s the world upside down: is everyone suddenly involved in shamanic practices or do I suddenly belong to a larger group of people with the same characteristics?
What is the definition of normal here? Charles Eisenstein offers an intriguing perspective:
“For years, normality has been stretched nearly to its breaking point, a rope pulled tighter and tighter, waiting for a nip of the black swan’s beak to snap it in two. Now that the rope has snapped, do we tie its ends back together, or shall we undo its dangling braids still further, to see what we might weave from them?”
Eisenstein’s essay is quite a relevant addition to our pretty pile of information. When mentioning the black swan, Eisenstein refers to ‘The theory of the black swan’: the metaphor describing an event that comes as a surprise, that has a major effect, and is often wrongly labeled as predictable afterwards. After all, it is easy to talk afterwards. The black swan’s metaphor is a good example of how our obsession with bringing order to (apparent) chaos leads to a misleading conclusion about reality.
In his story, Eisenstein expresses how the coronavirus makes us question our own personal strength and how we consequently — in crisis — give in to an invasion of our privacy that we would never have otherwise allowed. He also highlights the ever-present split between chaos and order, as well as the question marks that now arise from it, and offers the perspective of an intermediate form. The idea of ‘chaorde’ is my chaordic addition to his inspiring position:
“Another option is available now too. Instead of doubling down on control, we could finally embrace the holistic paradigms and practices that have been waiting on the margins, waiting for the center to dissolve so that, in our humbled state, we can bring them into the center and build a new system around them.”
In the context of a new system — the frequently heard call for a ‘new normal’ — I would also like to draw attention to two other initiatives. These fall under the heading of social media, to keep the balance with the shamanic perspective:
1. An article from Wired calls on social media platforms to control algorithms and messages in order to positively influence the ‘flatten the curve’ directive. The author, Tristan Harris, is a co-founder of Center for Humane Technology. Under ’normal’ circumstances, this is an organization that introduces and promotes humane and environmentally friendly applications of technology. In this particular article, though, Harris is calling for a tightening of controlling measures because he sees that as the best solution:
“Clearly this is uncomfortable. We would not voluntarily hand over control of our information environment to the whims of any private corporation—let alone Facebook, with its questionable track record—to navigate a pandemic. Yet the platforms are in this unique position, so now more than ever, they have a responsibility to take action.”
2. Online hackatons are organized worldwide, to provide technological solutions such as crisis response, as well as the possible role of technology post-crisis:
“To come up with the solutions, motivated people with a wide range of skill sets are needed ranging from health professionals to artists, from developers to communication specialists and from supply chain to blockchain and AI experts (and anything else really). When you believe you have valuable ideas or skills, we invite you to join us in Hacking the Crisis!”
Whereas Harris’ call falls into the thinking pattern of control as a solution, the online hackatons create a new example of chaorder. By placing responsibility with the social media platforms, Harris suggests that we, the users, are victims. The tone of voice of the online hackatons is one of heroism. Within the context of the corona crisis, anything is still possible and the chaos is not yet complete…
How will you contribute to this story?
“Anything of value is defenseless,” is a famous phrase by the Dutch poet Lucebert (translation PS).
A creed that the realm of order translates into “safety first”. Two words that now contain a mountain of rules and where the idea of ‘privacy’ is suddenly undervalued. It is striking how values can shift and how, for example in the context of maintaining order, one value is central at one time and replaced by a different value at another time. Before, no one wanted the government, or anyone else, to be able and have access our phone data (calls, text messages, etc.). Now we are only too happy to know if the neighbor is not hiding any corona symptoms from us so yes, please check that man’s phone!
As strange as it may sound, this shift of values expresses an ‘orderly’ Universal law: in principle, nothing has value, and everything is neutral, until we assign a value to it.
You could also say that everything is chaos, until we arrange it through our meaning. That is why values are so flexible to adjust, it is their nature. This also makes us realize the crucial role mankind has in assigning meaning to literally EVERYTHING. We, as humans, form the neutral point in a triad where the other two points are positive and negative. We are born as the heroes of our own story, but no hero thrives on an abundance of control. Additionally, many aspiring hero feels victimized by chaos first.
As the pile of coronavirus related stories thickens, we are all being asked how we wish to contribute: as victims of control or as heroes of chaos.
Trusting the natural influence that each of us has, I don’t appeal to institutions such as governments or Big Tech. After all, every human organization — big or small — ultimately consists of people, and they are the ones who make the difference. That’s why I appeal to YOU, dear reader at the other side of this Internet connection. Your existence in itself has value, regardless of who you are or where you are (in your life).
Whether you believe it or not, your contribution to this story is indispensable. It is your You-niverse.
To make your contribution not one of victimhood, but more of a hero(in), you need to become aware of your value and of the neutral position that every person takes before assigning meaning. After all, being the neutral point means that you can be both hero and victim. The choice is yours.
By means of encouragement, in case you still find the magnitude of your worth hard to believe, I will introduce one more story. The most obvious story when it comes to becoming conscious of our heroism, that of Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero With A Thousand Faces:
“…the return or recognition of the hero, when, after the long period of obscurity, his true character is revealed. This event may precipitate a considerable crisis; for it amounts to an emergence of powers hitherto excluded from human life. Earlier patterns break to fragments or dissolve; disaster greets the eye. Yet after a moment of apparent havoc, the creative value of the new factor comes to view, and the world takes shape again in unsuspected glory.”
(Campbell 2004: 304)
The archetypes and choices that heroes face, as analyzed by Campbell through his study of many mythologies, are not attained nor overcome in an orderly fashion. On the contrary, the journey of a hero is one where her or his deepest fears are faced and the chaos of one day is followed by the crisis of the next. Yet, as Campbell takes the stand of the observer, he makes us aware of the order that each story contains. A ‘standard’ sequence of events can be detected in myths from all over the world. The creators of these ancient stories have never been in contact with each other, but somehow they all described the inherent journey of a human (becoming more conscious) in a similar fashion.
The number of stories on the Internet is now roughly equal to the number of people who use it. Today, the hero has many more than a thousand faces. All with a comparable journey, and yet all unique.
Having said this, you’ll understand that I do not intend to push your free will one way or another. I do not pretend to have that kind of control. And I fully realize how much information is already coming at you, these days. Nevertheless, I offer you my perspective in this story, because given that you have already read it so far, I assume that everyone is looking for the meaning that best resonates with her or his unique nature. In order to further process this story in your own life. By sharing it, for example, by putting it aside or by giving me feedback.
So I ask you, as a fellow human being, how will you contribute to this story? Or, as Campbell put it in a comprehensive way:
“The hero is the [wo]man of self-achieved submission. But submission to what? That precisely is the riddle that today we have to ask ourselves and that it is everywhere the primary virtue and historic deed of the hero to have solved.”
(Campbell 2004: 15)
Bommerez, J.en R. Hoppenbrouwers (2007). Door de bomen het bos zien. Ontdek de eenvoud onder de complexiteit in relaties en organisaties. Baarn: United Media Company
Campbell, J. (2004). The Hero With A Thousand Faces (commemorative edition). Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press