By Simon Bell
Take your time, read the story and let the ideas wash over you.
In the green years of the world, in Homer’s Greece, when hero’s and deific intelligences regularly came together in sunny warm madness’s of colloquy and love, a god of hooves and horns played a pipe to dancing nymphs and dryads in mythic praise of the Lords of all that was. Pan. Descended by confusing paths from Dionysius and the Lords of Misrule. Pan in Greek means: ‘all’. Everything, involving all. The years passed and with it passed the green and sunny age of heroes and gods. The age of steel and concrete found no need for Crazy dancing Pan with his pipes, but still wanted the all and, so all and everything became pan, the all: Pandemonium, Pantheistic, Panchromatic, Pantechnicon, Panegyrical, the confusing list goes on. Eventually you come to Pandemic – all the demos, all the people.
Maybe drunken and pipe playing Pan would not have been that happy with this development. Pan was the bringer of joy to all the people. All the people. Now, as his name and nature evolved, the trouble begins, and disease is carried to each and every one.
A pandemic can be a terrible weapon to attack people with but in this story, the pandemic is not the weapon. It is the story around the pandemic which is the weapon. A pandemic is defined as “a disease prevalent over a whole country or the world”. Some consider a disease to be pandemic when it is established on all continents. But this is academic. A pandemic is when the mind says it is and this is often determined by the ways in which the news is broadcast, and the story is told. The pandemic of the mind rather than the pandemic of the physical disease. Not an adjective so much as a horror story. Here is a story:
Jane and Paul and Karl are friends and they share a flat in London. They work in the city and have a nice 20-something lifestyle. It’s good. Then the story begins.
The story is told that there is a new killer virus let loose in China. Irresponsibility is the story. Here is a version of the story: The virus should never have existed but for bad thinking and bad planning by bad actors in a poorly controlled situation.
And, the story is told, this is the disease or could be the disease, it does not matter which, that may well be the disease that some people in some places have been talking about for a long time and it could be the disease that may develop into a global killer. Because, the story goes, it may evolve and become much more lethal and then it could kill millions.
Jane and Paul and Karl have jobs in offices with lots of people. They talk, touch, sneeze and cough in the office. Everyone does. A case of the disease, moving invisibly in the air between China and maybe Italy, is found in London.
The story is that the case is potentially fatal, could be the first of hundreds if not thousands. An expert on the internet says that this is likely to produce the worst possible outcome.
Jane and Paul and Karl feel fear. Fear is now a thing. It is real and alive. Fear begins in the small dark places of individual thoughts and the conversations between friends. It pops into life in the space between worrisome words. People find out that people are worried. The need for, and wisdom of holidays is questioned, “do we need one?”, and then, they are cancelled. Food is hoarded and social situations are shunned. Strangers are seen as threats. Friends are avoided. People are driven to isolation and suspicion. It all becomes too much. The fear of fear is worse than the fear of the virus. Something in the dark places of people’s minds breaks.
Jane goes home to her family in the country, safer out of the metropolis. Paul and Karl decide to stay, but for different reasons. One is determined to ‘stick it out’, the other is determined not to appear weak. They both stay but increasingly confine themselves to their own areas in the flat. They meet and talk less and less.
Now the story becomes the carrier of the greatest power of the pandemic. Not the disease which kills a few thousand people in a world where millions die every week from a whole range of totally avoidable causes, but the story told about the disease, this has the potency to debilitate entire continents. The real enemy is one which Pan would have recognised. The real enemy is the story about the disease. This is spread by doxia, a Greek word meaning opinion. Now doxia is weaponised and out of control. Opinion needs no facts or truth. It lives in thought bubbles on the internet, isolated chat rooms and news silos feeding the fires of selected opinion. It has been given licence by the most powerful man on earth. Doxia feeds doxia. In the spaces retained by the voices of those who know least, doxia is spread and with it the untruth. This is a disease of the mind, manifestly vaster and more dangerous than any disease made by nature.
Jane, at home with her parents and Paul and Karl, in their separate parts of the flat are now in uncontained states of anxiety, an anxiety caught as surely as any virus is caught, by human interaction. From this point the story goes in one of two directions, amplification or attenuation. There are two scenarios to explore. In scenario 1 we see the consequence of amplification.
To amplify is easy, doxia produces division and chaos in society leading to a break down in civic and collective norms. Food hoarding, animosity, fighting at petrol stations. This eventually results in the reduction of individual personal and collective responsibility. No surprises that the outcome feeds back into the bonfire of the chaos. Our three find themselves isolated and isolating, lost and losing, helpless and unhelpful. So, we need to consider scenario 2. Attenuation.
To attenuate is not so easy, requiring an act of will to move against the flow of amplification. If the will is present, then contained collaboration at scale can lead to new and innovative collective norms feeding an upgrading of personal and collective fear-facing qualities. Feedback leads to a new and sustainable normal which allows scope for cure and correction, hope and improvement. The crisis does not ‘go to waste’. Here the three friends have other alternate ways to proceed with their lives. Better, more hopeful ways.
The green years of the world are long past. But Pan can still pick up his pipes and play the tune of the turning of the years. The mad dance of life, the life lived and living. Living does not care about the quality of the dance. But humans do. Which path will the dance follow?
(© Simon Bell)
Consider, what is the Meaning of the story? Next, what is relevant to you in this meaning? What value do you place on the relevance? Does this give you any insights? Finally, what might you do differently as a consequence of considering any insights?
Artwork © Rachel Furze
By Simon Bell
“Things seem to be getting awfully strange. Politics, economy, weather … The weather is very strange. Here is a mindful story, first published in May 2019.”
It had been blowing for days on end. The wind had been raging for so long now no one could remember quite when it began. Unusual? Certainly. An emergency? What would an emergency for lengthy periods of wind mean? What would it mean in terms of the reasons for it and what would it mean in terms of the lives impacted? These are braided questions.
“Just the new normal”, Ken at the corner shop had suggested in his deep, jovial voice. “No need to worry, we still get the dog-food delivery!”
Trying to reassure her, he added with a wink:
“We’re not going to run out of bread and milk in the near future Jenny”.
He did not say anything about the regular shortages in fresh veg, paper, cooking oil, potatoes. Fruit. The list went on. She did not think it wise to spoil his optimistic mood. She had smiled uncertainly as he helped her with her bag and then took time to open and close the shop door for her, lest it whip from her hand as she angled her body out into the wind-blown street. Some-how his easy kindness and smiling assurances were not convincing.
As she laboured up the hill towards her small semi, she realised just how tired she was of the wind. It was constant and inescapable. Moaning around her house, slamming the doors, making it impossible to open windows, it was a constant presence but a symptom of what?
The dog was not keen either. Walks were short and sometimes plain dangerous. Falling branches had claimed many lives and falling trees a lot more. Not that there were too many trees around her bit of town anymore. Even so, getting from A to B was a nightmare. Recreational walking was a hazard. Her dog was not happy and nor was she. Who was?
It had been months ago that the TV news had noted the dip in the jet-stream. She had not even known what the jet-stream was until then. In conversations with her neighbours it appeared that there was to be a threat of a prolonged period of gales. Of course people had begun talking about the windy autumn and some said it was the windiest on record. But, the older members of the community poo poo’d the idea. It had been much windier in 1987 they said. But surely that was not right?
It had begun innocently enough. Certainly, the leaves had come down early and in great abundance causing all kinds of issues on road and rail but, you expected winds in the autumn. But then, there had been no let up. Days of high winds had turned into weeks. Autumn came and went; winter began and now the winds howled with a new ferocity. Snow and sleet made all kinds of event impossible. Winter fairs and sports events were cancelled or indefinitely postponed. Visits from friends and family were scratched from the calendar and still the wind keened and wailed.
Now it was Spring and ‘new normal’ just about summed it up. Winter receded but as the warmth began to build a new threat emerged in the form of a protracted heat wave. The inverse of an Indian Summer. Summer before summer. And the wind showed no sign of abatement. The gales continued and this brought to the public mind a new challenge. Tempests and heat. An evil combination. New words and phrases were appearing on the news. Gone were “flood” and “tree-loss”. The new vocabulary included; “desertification”, “massive soil-erosion”, “dust-bowl”. Was this new normal too?
Turning on her television and clicking the volume up to combat the never-ceasing racket from outside, Jenny settled down to try to take her mind of things. Outside the wind continued to howl and moan, a mindless cypher of the change inherent and emergent from the human achievement. A kind of marker of a unique inflection point. The moment had come and gone five months earlier without fanfare or even much notice, other than comments from a few worried looking scientists whose dire prognoses did not make it onto the prime-time news.
But the die was cast and ‘he who sows the wind’… as they say.
A consequence emergent from complex interactions, each of them as unremarkable as the fluttering of a butterfly wing but the outcome scaled and geared on a spring of titanic, possibly civilisation-breaking inevitability.
Let the story sink in. When you are ready, here are the questions for you to consider:
Question 1. What is the main meaning of the story?
What message or core or essential meaning does the story hold for you? There may be many meanings which occur to you but for now try to prioritise just one.
When you feel clear on this, hold it in your mind and read the next question:
Question 2. How is this meaning of relevance to you?
How does the story impact on your life and your challenges right now? Why is it important to you at this point in your life? What element emerges as being most relevant?
Again, give yourself time to think of your response and when you feel prepared try the next question:
Question 3. Think about what is the main value that you can draw from this relevance of the story.
What does this value bring to the concern you identified earlier?
Don’t rush your response. Take time to think about the value. The word ‘value’ is an interesting word. What do we value and what of value is here? When you are set try this:
Question 4. What insight does the identified value provide for you?
Question 5. What action might you engage with as a consequence?
Don’t expect instant results from considering a mindful story. The whole point is that the story can act as a gateway to another level. Give yourself time to let the ideas which come from the story settle down. Each time you reconsider you may get to a deeper level of meaning and this could result in new ideas.
Artwork © Rachel Furze
Simon recently spoke at the London Leadership Academy Summit. His experiential workshop on Double Task and Mindful Stories was packed-out. Thanks to all those who came along.
Professor Simon Bell was invited to speak at the URA Mini-Symposium Initiative 2019 at the University of Tsukuba in Japan. The Symposium topic was: Internet of Things and AI in Agriculture and Simon’s presentation was: Surviving the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence: innovating methods, minds and technologies. The talk covered many Bayswater methods including Socio Technical systems, Double Task, BECM, Fear Analysis and Mindful Stories.
The aim of the talk was to underline how groups can achieve superpowers when dealing with technology.
The superpowers are:
- Different thinking
- Willingness to take a risk
- Assessing impact on community &
- Co-dreaming the future
Congratulations to these delegates from London Leadership Academy who attended the Bayswater Institute Masterclass in Fear Analysis and using Mindful Stories.
Congratulations to these Delegates who attended the Bayswater Institute MasterClass in SocioTechnical Systems and the Imagine Method.
Congratulations to all those who attended the BI Master Class in Double Task and BECM (Being, Engaging, Contextualising and Managing) for the London Leadership Academy on September 4th.
The Master Class is the first in a series of three events run by the BI for the LLA in London over the autumn.
Day 1: Double Task and BECM – Looking at the nature of the Group and perception
Day 2: Socio Technical Systems and Imagine – Thoughtful Analysis and measurement of group activity
Day 3: Mindful stories and Fear analysis – Exploring the Fear Mind and the inner journey
Contact the BI for more details about the MasterClasses and future events.