The Paradox of Covid-19

“I would steal the stress and abuse from your life in an instant if I could, but I cannot. However, has the chaos you are facing taught you something about the human journey that you can use to help others?” I have asked some version of this question to hundreds of people over the past 17 years. The most typical response is, “You have no idea!” I recall asking one woman, who was bone weary from a life of giving and having been taken advantage of, why she might want to go on. Her response filled my heart. “I still have so much left to give.”

If you ask people to recount the most learningful, creative moments of their lives, a surprising number of those stories will have arisen from times when life seemed out of control. It is during those times, when life sidles from order into chaos, we are called to be maximally creative. A spouse is unexpectedly gone, and the broken family must discover new ways to survive. An unforeseen chronic disease suddenly invades, and life abruptly pivots. Loss of a career or life goal demands we see the world anew.

In the 1990s, when Dee Hock was writing his extraordinary book, “Birth of the Chaordic Age,” he thought a great deal about that edge where nature is maximally creative, where chaos and order suddenly overlap. He searched all the major languages for a word to describe that intersection, but none was to be found. So he borrowed the first syllables from “chaos” and “order” to create the word “chaord.” If you wish to find the emergence of creativity and innovation, you simply need to look for chaords, and you needn’t go far. Except for the species Homo sapiens, every other species in nature experiences the intersection of order and chaos every single day.

Covid-19 has thrown the entirety of the human species into that overlap of order and chaos. Out of the chaordic experience of the last several months, I’ve been witness to innovation, creativity and emergence of new ideas unlike anything I have ever experienced in any comparable span of time. I am heartbroken for the millions who are finding the future filled with anxiety and pain, yet I am astounded by the generosity and creativity that has emerged to try to ease that pain. Money being raised to fill food pantries…volunteers shopping for the elderly and infirmed so they may remain safe…neighborhoods coming together on balconies to remind us of what we have, as to opposed to what we are losing…millions at home sewing masks…artists of all ilks flooding social media with astonishing music and beauty…essential services pivoting to provide and help us remain safe…and, factories instantly repurposed to produce PPE and respirators. The global eruption of generosity, love, even intimacy, is palpable.

Around the globe, humans are doing everything possible to edge out of this chaord and return to our normal sense of safety, control and order. As much as anyone, I grieve the losses, and fear the future we face, as long as the coronavirus reigns rampant. And yet, I feel a paradox in the offing. Will we, even to some small extent, grieve the loss of generosity, love and intimacy not nearly so palpable when life does return to “normal?”

4 thoughts on “The Paradox of Covid-19”

  1. John Lillibridge

    Roger, I am not sure but doesn’t chaord mean much the same as criticality. The idea of “chaos
    overlapping with stability” may need reexamination. “coexisting” may be a better term for what is happening..See my description of “criticality” below.

    Criticality more specifically means that the system dances among several attractors without being
    in one of them, The result is great flexibility and fast responses including creativity and innovation. Being captured by an attractor means both stability (staying in the attractor) and inflexibility (hard to leave it). In criticality, you are relatively free to dance.among the attractors. Being captured is a kind of being near stability and being free to dance may be a kind of being near chaos.

    What do you think?

    1. Jack, you are likely more accurate in your language than I, but, for the purpose of a general blog post, it’s important not to use too much jargon. Very few people understand strange attactors for example. I think people can relate to the general idea of times when chaos and order enter their lives simultaneously.

  2. Richard N Knowles

    Hi Roger,
    Your post was quite good. Next week I’ll talk about moving out to the edge and how we can live near there.
    This is the arena of great creativity and energy.
    Thanks for your insights.
    Dick Knowles

  3. Roger, some encouraging observations for sure. There is a dance between chaos and order. The new emerges at the boundary. I find experiences of many years ago which at the time were pure trauma, are now material for reflection, raw material for a deeper understanding of the self that I have become. I have concluded recently that all of that pain, was inevitable, “had to be” given the larger context, the precursors of my families history. I confess that I have become a fan of Nietzsche over the years. He has this notion of a “myth of eternal return” which is a repudiation of our idea of progress, and the optimism that comes with it. The same kinds of suffering that strengthens, and gives texture to the lives of some, seems to work inexorably to destroy the lives of the many.

    Keep up the good writing! — Jerry

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