CORONAVIRUS 2020: UPDATE OF THE ANTHROPOS SYSTEM

Or the delicate art of contactless hands-free connection. A reflection on the world after COVID-19

By Guila-Clara Kessous, PhD, Harvard University
Edited by Kyra Johnson

Peter M. Friess
A screenshot from CORO1, a visionary interpretation of the COVID-19 realized by Brussels-based Conceptual Digital Artist PETERMFRIESS based on the LAMAφ improvisation ensemble. Watch it on our #CreativityWillSaveUs Series HERE. For more info about PETERMFRIESS click here: www.petermfriess.com.

As the world continues to undergo the effects of the coronavirus in all aspects of life, it becomes necessary to recognize what a post-COVID world looks like, as well as to consider it to be a sort of separator of space and time. Such a world-altering event, after all, is so extreme and drastic that it reflects an almost messianic importance. 

Imagining oneself in a post-coronavirus future is already to recognize the pandemic’s role as a separator of space-time. After all, aren’t we in 2020 AD, or even 1441 A.D., 1441 Hegira, Chinese 4718, or 5780 in the Jewish calendar, to name but a few? All these calendars base their point of departure, the year 1, on a founding event which radically separates the coming era from the preceding one. Most importantly, the new era also “updates” the cultural, territorial, social, behavioural, and economic system. We now must seek out a global meaning in all civilizations, which comes from a posteriori to the event since the year zero does not exist. We therefore begin to count long after the event, which only takes on its meaning once we choose its meaning. Therefore, in the current case of COVID-19, we are still in the year zero. Let us try to see what societal norms we are radically leaving behind in order to go towards year one, Post-COVID, and what this new era of ours will potentially look like. 

Another screenshot from CORO1 by PETERMFRIESS

Turning to a New Sun

In our society prior to the coronavirus, human beings shared in the tropism—the natural turning towards an external stimulus–exhibited by many plants; we are like sunflowers, following the rays of the stimuli we have grown accustomed to in order to support our own social growth. What we are leaving to go into the Post-COVID world is above all an anthropological tropism that acted as an irresistible and unconscious force, a reflex behavior that seemed so natural to us.  This behavior that seemed so natural to us and pushed us to use all of our five senses fearlessly in our relationship with others is now absent in lieu of our inability to psychically reach out. Whether they were close or unknown to us, accepting the other meant bringing them into our social “spheres”: the professional sphere, the family sphere, the personal intimate sphere. Each of these spheres has required some sort of a contact greeting. This human-to-human “recognition” seemed so natural to us–whether it was a kiss, handshake, or hug–that it had become a tropism. 

We collectively failed to realize how physical contact norms may endanger us if we had to consider the other or oneself as “potentially contagious”. In the face of the virus, us metaphorical sunflowers are forced to find a new type of sun to turn to in order to achieve and maintain our social growth.

For example, this “new sun” is already somewhat adopted by Asian cultures, where it is custom to avoid touching each other during greetings, particularly in China, where salutations are exchanged at a distance, with heads bowed. We are therefore encouraged to follow the Chinese example in our professional spheres, where even prior to the pandemic, physical exchanges were rarely intimate, and are therefore the most appropriate type of contact greeting to undergo procedural changes in our Post-COVID Year One. The choice of the “elbow” salutation (widely remembered as the “Ebola Shake” salutation, born during the Ebola epidemic) is appropriate, and even already common, in several cultures. What does this mean in terms of anthropological tropism of finding a new stimulus in which to grow from? We would orient our physical interactions to a much more “Asian fashion”: less touching, interruptions, and emotions, and more observation, silence, and neutrality. Adopting foreign greetings may lead us to culture shock, and feelings of “Fear and Trembling” may await us in this “Asia-tization” of our methods of greeting, and perhaps even our modes of societal functioning.

Another screenshot from CORO1 by PETERMFRIESS.

Learning from Porcupines: A New “Hands Free” Connection

If we cannot enjoy our typical experiences of physical contact anymore, does this mean that we all need to find an “inner warmth” to replace what no longer comes from others? This is what philosopher  Arthur Schopenhauer recommended in his famous parable of the porcupines in “Parerga and Paralipomena”, in which he used this group of animals to explain the paradox of human contact. During a frosty snowstorm, the porcupines huddled together in tight-knit groups to keep warm, but ultimately suffered from each other’s sharp prickles, since they were too close together.  They were forced to find a “medium distance” where they could benefit from their collective warmth yet avoid harming others with their spikes. Schopenhauer then writes: 

“Thus the need for society, born of the emptiness and monotony of their inner life, pushes people towards each other; but their many unsympathetic ways and unbearable defects scatter them again. The average distance they eventually discover and at which living together becomes possible is politeness and good manners.”
Arthur Schopenhauer

What we come to understand from this example is that, during this pandemic, we must learn how to benefit from one another’s metaphorical warmth while still keeping our distance, as the infectious disease has become our own set of sharp spines that could damage others, should we fail to maintain a proper distance. Would we have failed in the principle of “politeness” by abruptly changing our socially “average distance” into a brand-new “sanitary distance”? There are no more possible contacts to fall back on once the pandemic has passed, because it is the aggregation of the whole system that is changing. The anthropological system described by Arthur Schopenhauer assumed that groups of humans push towards each other by aggregates “born from the emptiness and monotony of their inner life”. But does this kind of emptiness still exist today? In accordance with our metaphor, the quills of porcupines have grown and become a type of interconnected network of antennas that connect without contact, as if their exchange of bodily warmth is done virtually–it is “hands-free”. 

Check out the Porcupines & Schopenhauer Story @illacertus Youtube Channel – Animated book summaries focusing on strategy, power & seduction with a flair for history & how you can use the knowledge within today to further your own cause.

This is the basis of our real-world rapidly expanding Internet connectivity, with intelligent underground, underwater, aerial and space smart grids… 5G obliges! The interconnected system of porcupines that gathered together to keep warm symbolically evolved to become an emanation of our own individual social antennas. We each radiate our own quills that serve as a protective “crown”–which, strangely enough, looks similar to the shape of the coronavirus when viewed under an electron microscope. These antennas are also our ways of relating to each other. This explains why we are able to have hundreds of friends on Facebook without ever actually meeting them in person. In 1992, anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggested that 150 was the maximum number of people with whom we could maintain stable social relationships, so as not to exceed the maximum size allowed by the information processing capacity of our brain. Humans have an incredible capacity to connect, but this pandemic creates a blockage for us to demonstrate our typical human warmth. When “emptiness” no longer exists outside, it is reborn inside us via a “lack of oxytocin”, which is the hormone of love, trust and bonding created through physical contact (such as caresses, kisses, etc.). We are about to live through an incredible moment of withdrawal where our only option to remain hyper-connected is to use social media platforms, where we can engage in a sort of “hands-free” style of interaction (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and TikTok, among others). But is keeping this mode of “no contact” relationships, truly without risk of contamination? It may present a dangerous “Zoom-ification” of our world where others only appear in two dimensions, “framed” in a relationship controlled by a “power” button that you just have to press once for others to disappear.

Another screenshot from CORO1 by PETERMFRIESS.

The Return of “Courtesy”

This “love from afar” that we must now practice is reminiscent of the ballads of “courtly love” that were sung by  William IX of Aquitaine “Roman de la Rose”  and the troubadours (traveling poets) of the twelfth century. In this medieval context, songs describe the object of love: the rose; and the woman, the object of wooing, is far away, but one must surpass the presented obstacles in order to fulfill their conquest. In our non-medieval context: less oxytocin hormone, therefore, equates less touching, yet provides more dopamine, the hormone of success. A “setting far away”, which is the new distant location of individuals in our lives, allows us to rework the path that leads to others. This medieval approach to human connection seems very outdated. 

On the contrary, the practice of working through obstacles to achieve our object of interest is anchored deep within us, in what we are desperately trying to find again during this time: a rediscovered physical closeness with our companions and an ambition to take on a brand new, albeit mysterious, future. a brand new future.

The term “courtesy” does not force us to return to feudalistic style, but allows us to rethink our “porcupine” social system on a human scale–that is to say, we must insert ourselves into metaphorical “courtyards”: small bordered spaces in which a finite number of individuals who share common values reside as a community. Taking residence in these spaces is not advocating for the return of the aristocracy, or the feudal reign of the King and his Court, but rather, it is to set up each individual to have the capacity of a “power” button; not to make others entirely disappear, but to simply make them leave their screen, like Tom Baxter in Woody Allen’s film  “The Purple Rose of Cairo”. We have the ability to be aware of the collective world, thanks in particular to the analysis grid of the 17 Sustainable Development objectives adopted by the UN in 2015, and the credo of the platform of action for the coronavirus, set up in mid-March by the World Economic Forum in Davos. We know what we have to do, but we don’t do it yet… even if we hear many people say that, despite the difficulty of containment, what we will regret most is this long period of time when we could have “settled down” for a moment before returning to the frenzy of active life. This is the principle of the “JOMO” (the “Joy Of Missing Out”). This joy celebrates disconnection from an idealized world in order to concentrate on real life, on our truly important relationships without feeling fearful under the gaze of others.

Another screenshot from CORO1 by PETERMFRIESS.

Towards Optimistic Leadership  

What about business in our “professional sphere”? In comparison to the familial sphere, it is not the one that is most naturally useful to society, but it is probably the one that has the most responsibilities in terms of helping everyone “hold it together”. In Latin, “Entre-prehendere” means “to take in one’s hands”, and “to take the risk” of creating something valuable that is beyond financial gain. This is where the “courtyard” that the company represents is so important since it must recreate a will to create, share, and co-construct together, and to bring water to the metaphorical mill of society so that the economy can turn. Just as an individual struggles with the idea of death at the sound of a cough, a company thinks it is finished when it sees its sales drop during the last two months. However, they are far from being finished.

Just like the individual, if companies take on the responsibility to not contaminate and not be contaminated, they enter a phase of change in accordance with what the virus has taught us: how to resist by breathing. To continue to breathe in spite of the miasma of this virus means to, against all odds, feed on the air of others and accept that it may be necessary to empty oneself of their own air so that another can feed on it.

This circulation of air must take place in a healthy environment, between healthy individuals, for a healthy purpose. The return of deconfinement in the workplace should aim to achieve this healthy system at the managerial level: leaders must regain the health of the collective through a narrative sense. Telling a story of survival is crucial in terms of resilience. And for that, the leader’s communication is essential at both the verbal and non-verbal level. When presenting content, a leader must make the choice of using positive, unifying, hope-creating words, but above all,  they must be transparent with the situation, for that will make the difference. Far too many leaders would like to apply the perception of the pre-COVID to the post-COVID era by making people believe that nothing has happened. On the contrary, it is by underlining the difficulties undergone during this time of collective survival, and by detailing the different steps to follow going forwards, that unity will be able to motivate the team. This is what the “optimistic” leader should look for, to use the ideas of the famous Tal Ben Shahar, professor of “happiness” (a form of positive psychology) at Harvard University, in his book The Happiness of Being a Leader: a clever mix of optimism and realism. The leader must go beyond their bodily barriers. It is their own body, which has been denied so much in the virtual relationship, that they will have to re-inhabitat. This will show how the leader will be judged, measured, and despised, and if they can be followed. For the body does not lie and when one is the image of power in a company, it is the body that reveals its weaknesses, impostor syndrome, or megalomaniacal impulses.

Another screenshot from CORO1 by PETERMFRIESS.

Even the newly named “coronial” generation of babies coming from this era (including X Æ A-12, the aptly named newborn of Elon Musk) have a body, which is what remains to us as irreducibly fragile and therefore “human”. So let us become guards of our own body by not listening to those who want to amputate it under the narrative of reinforcing our performance with “painkillers” and “anti-epileptics” by inhibiting nerves or by cutting off our sensitivity where it hurts. In medicine, just as in business, we should be wary of symptomatic treatments that would create a Guillain-Barré syndrome, a consequential fallout suffered by many people who have been ill with corona: a loss of sensation that can lead to paralysis of the extremities (hands/feet). In a company, it is necessary to look at how the virus was experienced by all the employees, offering at all levels (from “feet” to “hands”) not only spaces for words, but real possibilities to integrate and collaborate “in the common courtyard” with real recognition–without such an approach, it would lead to a paralysis of the company’s whole collective body . “Stop applauding us and come and put your hands in the sludge instead,” a doctor said to me the other day. He didn’t necessarily mean making a medical commitment, but contributing in some way to ensuring that there is a dedication to relieving the harshness of daily life, each at one’s own level. What can be said about what awaits us in the post-COVID era is a real human question that searches for meaning and involvement at the individual level. 

This shared sense that we all have within us is a voice that guarantees the survival of our species and tells us to “do and play our part” as if we are an orchestra with an infinite number of instruments. Our song would be an uproar that is certainly very powerful because of its resonant force but would have no collective melody and even less unison.

At the moment, the system of the world has just been updated and unifying platforms, such as TikTok’s viral trends, have an impressive capacity to be its own type of virus and spread the same pantomime repeated across the continents as if it is a domino effect of one following after another.The virtual spread of ideas is a unifying force that helps us expand our perception of the world as a whole. Contrastingly, however, Voltaire’s satire Candide tells us of the importance of staying in one’s own social sphere and recognizing their place in the world. After having done all kinds of pantomimes and lived in various burlesque situations whilst traveling the world, the title character comes back home and advises us that it would be best for him to simply “cultivate his garden”…  not in terms of being selfishly interested only in his small plot of physical land, but to play at his level in the territorial, political, economic, and social issues–his own garden, his own yard. This is not a reflection of a post-COVID individualism, but a warning against a possible hyper-connected system that is overwhelmed by the desire to once again restore our norms of contact. The solution seems simple: does “cultivating your garden” not mean less connection and more contact with reality?

ABOUT GUILA-CLARA KESSOUS

Guila Clara Kessous
Guila-Clara Kessous

Guila-Clara Kessous, PhD. is a research professor, a coach, and a UNESCO Artist for Peace. Recipient of a doctorate under Elie Wiesel’s direction, she is using theatrical techniques to help suffering populations (survivors of genocide and human rights violations) better express themselves and have a stronger impact on new generations. She is also certified in positive psychology by Harvard University Professor Tal Ben Shahar and accompanies people to achieve stronger resilience in times of crisis.  She deals with issues of positive leadership, crisis communication, and managerial posture using theatrical techniques and role-playing. Following the coaching of suffering populations, she accompanies personalities, executive committees, senior executives, and managers in crisis contexts in France and abroad. Today, she is working with healthcare personnel, ranging from executives to nurses, to provide coaching and counseling to those serving at the front lines of the coronavirus crisis.

Find out more about Guila-Clara Kessous on our special interview for the #CreativityWilLSaveUS Phase 2 Series

Women ‘On Stage’ – Alessandra Salerno and the ‘NoQuiet Women Orchestra’

By Tommaso Cartia

Alessandra Salerno
Alessandra Salerno and the ‘NoQuiet Women Orchestra’

An American Exclusive for Creative Pois-On. International Singer-Songwriter Alessandra Salerno and her ‘NoQuiet Women Orchestra’ performed (You Make me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, on the occasion of #internationalwomensday. The Sicilian music sensation tells us how the idea of the performance came about, and reflects on what it means to be a woman ‘on stage’ in the music industry of today, and on her relationship with the female icons of the blues American tradition. These days, Alessandra is on the front line producing musical acts remotely to stand up for Italy during the tough times of the quarantine imposed on the country to prevent the spread of the COVID-19. We were expecting her to come back on New York’s stages this spring, and although the wait could be longer, she is positive that: “when this panicking climate ends, we will get back on our feet, even stronger than before. New York is a city dear to my heart, and I can’t wait to go back with my new album in my hands Alessandra Salerno – VOL.1 and a live show that will see me more mature, aware and ready to move my audience singing in my three languages: English, Italian and Sicilian.”

Let’s meet Alessandra Salerno backstage and dream away with her music while waiting to see her back on stage soon. 

Click here to watch Alessandra Salerno and the ‘NoQuiet Women Orchestra’ Perform ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’

It’s a sudden epiphany. Like opening your eyes and your ears on a new energetical vibration, when you experience Alessandra Salerno performing for the first time. Like the sudden eruption of a volcano. And it’s the volcanic land of Sicily, both bitterly harsh and exotically sweet like an African breeze, that forged and painted the alchemic colors of her voice. Her voice and her image are an instrument of Beauty, an enchantment that finds in its apparent contradictions, its subliminal harmony. Framed in what seems a regal Flemish painting, her porcelain skin and the long red hair echo those northern lands that had once conquered the Sicilian island. But the texture of her voice and the autoharp that she embraces takes us on a journey, far away in another country, in the American country and folk tradition that Alessandra embodies with the grace of a fairy of the woods and the soul of a resilient blueswoman. 

Alessandra Salerno and her Autoharp

Alessandra is the definition of ‘force of nature’, explosive, creative, unpredictable and so exuberantly generous on stage. I’ve witnessed her performing several times, and each time I saw her abandoning herself completely to gifting her audience with raw, unbridled emotions. She sparks on stage with her histrionic humor and her absolutely delightful personality. Every stage is The Stage for her. From an impromptu concerto in a remote location to the much-viewed one of The Voice of Italy talent show that saw her rise to fame; from the maxi concerts that she often organizes as Artistic Director in her city Palermo alongside big names of the Italian and international musical scene, to prestigious American venues. She had the chance to perform in Washington at the NIAF Gala, The Bitter End in New York, at the NYU at the popular Sofar Sounds circuit, and also, at a Baptist church in Harlem where she magically was asked to perform with a chorus of all-black singers. She just stepped in, asked to sing… and the miracle happened. 

Alessandra Salerno performs “Creep” by the Radiohead at The Voice of Italy Blind Auditions

Extraordinary things seem to happen when Alessandra is around, her spirit is contagious, and her strong sense of community and aggregation produces entrepreneurial acts that would take a nation of music producers to put together. And she does them overnight.  Like the homage for the International Women’s Day and the ‘NoQuiet Women Orchestra’ that did not exist before March 8th 2020; or the streaming concert that she performed last week from her terrace to give a moment of solace to all the Italians living the nightmare of the quarantine. 

Tells us how the idea of reinterpreting (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, the iconic Aretha Franklin’s song written by Carole King, came about.

Alessandra Salerno

Carole King is an icon, for any woman musician. In paying homage to her I wanted to speak to the future generations that maybe know her less. The business world of today is still very chauvinistic, and the music industry is no exception; on the contrary, it is one of the toughest fields for women. She has been writing music for 50 years, collaborating with the biggest artists, winning the most prestigious awards and she gifted the world with this powerful hymn. It is a ‘necessary’ song, for humankind and for us women, we savor a taste of freedom when we listen to it and when we sing it. But it speaks to men also, to make them understand our strength, our sensitivity, our freedom, and the beauty to be women that they should respect. That’s why I decided to honor all women with this song on the occasion of #internationalwomensday and the #womenshistorymonth.

It seems that the idea of the performance was born from an instinctual artistic act, a sudden eruption, strong with creativity, sound, and feminity. You created the ‘NoQuiet Women Orchestra’ basically overnight right?

Exactly! I was watching a documentary on Carole King that night and the inspiration came immediately, like a burning fire. I thought that to send a strong message to women I should have done something big. So, I called 18 female musicians, and I invited them to be part of the project. We risked being almost 40 because the enthusiasm with which my idea was welcomed has been extremely powerful. Each one of them wanted to invite a fellow female colleague. I needed to contain the project, because of the timing and the capacity of the stage hosting us. But this project is destined to grow. The night before releasing the video I was looking for a name for the ensemble, for something that could have all represented us and mean something also for all the women listening. ‘No Quiet’. That was it, the exact meaning I had in mind. Because we women should not stay silent, as artists that struggle to succeed, and as friends, daughters, mothers, lovers, human beings. It’s an invitation to raise our voices to the world, in unison. This is the ‘NoQuiet Women Orchestra’. 

Alessandra Salerno

March is #womenhistorymonth and also in February, the U.S. celebrates the #blackhistorymonth. These are two worlds that are very dear to your heart. Tell us about your love for the black female voices of singers like Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Billie Holiday and your relationship with the blues, folk, and gospel American tradition.

I followed the #blackhistorymonth a lot over social media, and you are right, I’m in love with the African American culture. I’ve always felt a sort of a very distinctive form of spirituality within myself since I was a kid. My women, my Muses, were Aretha, Etta James, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Whitney Houston, Nina Simone. I dreamt to be like them, and in their voices and skin color, I’ve always identified myself, in those shades so significantly rich. I still cry over the same songs, like “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday. I found the gospel, the one I was looking for. I’ve been part of a choir for a very long time, and my last time in New York gifted me with an unforgettable experience. I sang in a Harlem’s cathedral accompanied by a wonderful choir. My African American colleagues tell me that I have a black soul. I wish I could find out who I was in another life…

“Faith Within Your Hands” an original song by Alessandra Salerno

Some time ago I had the chance to interview another great Sicilian Singer-Songwriter, Carmen Consoli. She was telling me about her love for the ladies of the American blues music, and she compared them to Rosa Balistreri, the myth of the Sicilian, female songwriting tradition. Because in her opinion, Blues as a genre and an attitude, comes from the same suffering, the same cry of pain that turns into ransom, and from a similar sense of belonging to one’s roots. Do you agree with this definition and what is blues for you?

I totally agree! And I always made this parallel. The music from the South of the world has blues in its veins. The ‘blue notes’ are by definition dark, and the color blue connects with some nostalgic, suffered feelings. Modern music comes from the slaves’ working the camps, from those prayers that would mark the days passing by and the job’s rhythms. The south of the world is united by this hardness of life, this sense of ransom and this strong spirituality. You can find all of this in Rosa Balistreri’s voice. I started singing Rosa when I was 8 years old. These are natural inclinations, everything would lead me to those singers. They are all women, singers, souls made of the same matter. Among them, I would also mention two other icons of the Black Music from the South: Chavela Vargas and Cesària Évora.

Alessandra Salerno performs “Who Told You”. English version of “Cu ti lu dissi’ by Rosa Balistreri.

Recently, you’ve been the recipient of an award dedicated to Rosa Balistreri; and you are the first performer ever to translate her in English. How important it is for you Rosa’s exemplary as an artist and a woman, and what do you feel when you embody and present her to the foreigner’s stages. 

The award has been a great honor for me. As I said, I started to pay homage to her since the very first time I went on stage as a kid. Rosa would tell me of a Palermo I didn’t know. Some would argue that I was too young at that time to understand her, but I’ve always been a very empathetic person, and I would say that she helped me develop my sensitivity, as an artist and a human being. She was one of the first-ever female songwriters in Italy, and her life has been very troubled and, as it happens to many artists, she ended up dying poor and misunderstood. To me, to bring her with me today and putting her on the setlist of my shows alongside my own songs and the tributes to the women that we talked about before, is a moral duty as well as an artistic pleasure. The idea of translating her popular song ‘Cu ti lu dissi’ in “Who Told You”, came because I thought that I needed to gift the world with a version that everybody can understand. Towards the end of the song, I sing in the Sicilian dialect as well, to honor my roots. Every time I sing it in front of an American audience, I witness many different emotional reactions, that move me and for which I’m so so grateful.

Alessandra is a woman…? 

She is a woman with her feet on the ground but with her head chasing dreams. I don’t fear death, but I can be afraid of the future. I wish I will have all the time to make all of my dreams as an artist and a woman come true. I’m very determined but I always try to act out of respect for the others, generosity and giving space to my inner child, who keeps on giving me the enthusiasm needed to keep on going and appreciate life’s little pleasures. 

The World Stage is shutting down at the moment, but the show must go on and will go on. We were expecting you on the New York stages this spring, but I’m sure that the waiting will just make the comeback even more explosive. After all, even a volcano stays quiet before the eruption. What can we expect from your next artistic eruptions?

When this panicking climate will end, we will get back on our feet, even stronger than before. New York is a city dear to my heart, and I can’t wait to go back with my new album in my hands Alessandra Salerno – VOL.1 and a live show that will see me more mature, aware and ready to move my audience singing in my three languages: English, Italian and Sicilian. I wish to establish myself, even more, for who I am – an exotic artist always looking for something special and unique to communicate. My Autoharp will always be here with me of course, but I plan to play also other instruments on stage and also to dress up my songs with my own style. Remember, I’m also a fashion designer! 

For more info on Alessandra Salerno please visit: www.alessandrasalerno.com